Over 170 refugees feared dead after dinghies capsize in Mediterranean

UN unable to verify death toll as two-month-old baby said to be among those missing

Zamira Rahim
Sunday 20 January 2019 00:12 GMT
Refugee crisis: More than 500 migrants rescued in single day in Mediterranean Sea

An estimated 170 refugees are thought to have drowned after two separate dinghies sank in the Mediterranean on Friday.

One of the small, overloaded boats capsized off the coast of Libya after leaving the country on Thursday night.

An Italian naval helicopter rescued three people who had been on board, who have been taken to hospital on Lampedusa, an Italian island, to be treated for severe hypothermia.

The survivors later told staff at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that 120 people had been on board the dinghy.

“After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning,” Flavio Di Giacomo, of the IOM, said.

A two-month old baby, 10 women and two children are among the missing and most of the passengers are thought to be from West African countries,

In a second incident, 53 refugees who left Morocco’s shores on a dinghy were declared missing after a reported collision in the Alboran Sea according to Spanish non-governmental organisation Caminando Fronteras.

The United Nations’ Refugee Agency said in a statement it was deeply saddened by reports of an estimated 170 people dead or missing but was unable to verify the death toll.

Separately, the charity Sea Watch said on Saturday it had rescued 47 people at sea, including eight unaccompanied minors, from a rubber boat in distress north of the Libyan city of Zuwara.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, who has closed off Italian ports to humanitarian boats since in mid-2018, said the ports would remain closed to deter to human traffickers.

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These are just the latest tragedies on the central Mediterranean where, in 2018, one in 18 people died or went missing making the trip to Europe.

The UN refugee agency said that though fewer people are making the journey, the rate of deaths has risen sharply.

Some 2,297 refugees are said to have died in the Mediterranean last year, while attempting to reach the continent.

Additional reporting by agencies

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