245 FEARED DEAD
2 ships capsize in Mediterranean while trying to reach Italy
UNITED Nations officials said yesterday that 245 migrants were feared dead in two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea.
The death toll represents a major increase in an already grim tally this year.
More than 1,300 people are now estimated to have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, most while attempting to reach Italy from Libya or Tunisia, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Last year, 5,098 people died that way.
The two recent shipwrecks occurred on Friday and Sunday, though details about the extent of the loss of life were not released until yesterday.
On Friday night, a rubber dinghy sank after several hours at sea, with 132 people on board.
Of those, 50 were rescued and taken to Pozzallo, Sicily, on Sunday. An additional 82 were believed to have died.
On Sunday, another shipwreck was reported, this one off the coast of Libya.
The International Medical Corps, which works with the UN refugee agency, reported that one woman and six men had been rescued by the Libyan coast guard, but that 163 people were feared dead.
Tens of thousands of people — 43,000 this year — continue to brave treacherous waters to try to reach Italy.
It has become the major route for people fleeing war and poverty in North or West Africa, and in some cases, farther east.
In contrast, the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea, from Turkey to Greece, has significantly slowed — though not entirely stopped — since Turkey and the European Union reached a deal in March last year to try to contain that part of the crisis.
The UN refugee agency, in a statement yesterday, described “an urgent need to address the root causes which lead people to move, as well as to offer credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection, including accessible and safe ways to reach Europe such as family reunification, relocation and resettlement”.
Migrants and refugees on a rubber boat before being rescued by Maltese non-governmental organisations off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea last year.