Up to 500 migrants feared dead after boat is rammed by traffickers off Malta

Survivors claim there was a violent confrontation between the migrants and traffickers

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The Independent Online

About 500 migrants are feared to have died after their boat was rammed and sunk off the coast of Malta last week, according to a United Nations agency.

The report emerged at the same time as reports of the sinking of a two migrant boats off the coast of Libya yesterday. Coastguards said at least 70 people and as many as 200 could have drowned.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said witnesses told them that the Malta boat left Damietta in Egypt in early September with Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese on board.

The vessel sank on Wednesday, reportedly after a group of human traffickers rammed it with another boat.

IOM spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said two Palestinian survivors had claimed there was a violent confrontation between the migrants and their traffickers, who wanted to move everyone on to one of their smaller vessels.

She said the traffickers “used one boat to knock the other,” and that there were only about nine known survivors.

On Monday, two boats carrying hundreds of migrants to Europe capsized near the Libyan capital.

Coastguard spokesman Qassim Ayoub said rescuers were retrieving dozens of bodies from the sea some 11 miles off the coast of Tripoli’s Tajoura district. He added that 36 African migrants, including three women – one of whom was pregnant – were rescued.

Ali Sarti, a Libyan coastguard unit commander, said patrol boats rescued the migrants lying in “a broken and damaged boat in the middle of the sea” before dawn on Monday.

Mr Ayoub said one of the boats was carrying at least 250 migrants.However, one of the 36 survivors said there were only 105 people on board. “There was a problem in the boat... Three women and one baby died,” he added.

There were no further details on the second boat accident.

Libya has grown increasingly lawless since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, making it a migration hub for sub- Saharan Africans seeking a better life. Scores die every year on the journey to Europe.

Refugee numbers have swelled as thousands of people flee conflicts in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East and Africa, boarding unsafe smugglers’ boats in Libya.

The UN says more than 130,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea this year, compared with 80,000 this year. Italy has received more than 118,000 migrants, the UN said.

Nearly 110,000 people have been rescued since January, but at least 1,889 others have died making the perilous crossing.

AP

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