ZUWARA, LIBYA // Libyan authorities were collecting the bodies of migrants who drowned off the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara, with some 200 feared dead on Friday in the latest disaster involving refugees trying to reach Europe.
Workers were removing bodies from the water, and pulling a flooded boat into the harbour that contained several drowned victims floating face down. At least one victim, a man, was wearing a life vest. They were put into body bags and lined up on the waterfront.
In a statement, the United Nations refugee agency said that up to 200 people were missing and feared dead after the Libyan coastguard carried out rescue operations Thursday for two boats carrying an estimated 500 migrants.
“We are still waiting for more details, but we have learnt there were 400 people on one of two boats,” Othman Belbeisi, the chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration for Libya, said.
He said 100 were rescued, including nine women and two girls.
In a separate rescue operation by the Libyan coastguard on Wednesday, UNHCR said 51 people were found dead of suffocation in the hold of a boat, with survivors recounting how smugglers beat them with sticks to keep them under the deck. It said one survivor described how smugglers forced passengers into the packed hold and were demanding money to allow them to come up to breathe fresh air.
Dozens of boats are launched from Libya each week, mostly bound Italy and Greece.
Violence and poverty in the Middle East and Africa are driving a surge in refugees headed to Europe, with many crowded rafts capsizing and leaving hundreds feared dead. Libya in particular has been a hot spot for human trafficking, although boats occasionally try to leave from Egypt as well.
* Associated Press