Migrant boat sinks off Libya – many Sudanese among 40+ dead

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reports that at least 40 people, mostly Sudanese nationals, are estimated to have drowned off the coast of Libya yesterday after a shipwreck.

A heavy-laden inflatable boat is intercepted off Libya (File photo: Libyan Coast Guard)

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reports that at least 40 people, mostly Sudanese nationals, are estimated to have drowned off the coast of Libya yesterday after a shipwreck.

According to a statement from Geneva, the UNHCR says that a rescue operation, carried out by the Libyan Coast Guard and local fishermen, has been underway since Tuesday morning and is ongoing.

60 survivors have been rescued and brought to shore in the coastal town of Al Khoms, around 100 kilometres east of Tripoli.

This latest boat disaster in the Mediterranean has prompted UNHCR to renew its “urgent call for action to save lives”.

Rescue ships

UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said most of the survivors are from Sudan. Others are from Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Yaxley called for urgent action by EU countries. This should include using their own ships, and lifting restrictions on NGOs who operate rescue ships.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have attempted the crossing from North Africa to Europe in recent years, with more than a thousand migrants have died at sea every year for the last five years, according to UNHCR. Earlier this month, more than 100 people died, and a boat with about 250 people aboard capsized last month.

‘We must not simply accept these tragedies as inevitable’ – UNHCR Special Envoy Vincent Cochetel

“We must not simply accept these tragedies as inevitable,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “Sympathies must now become actions that prevent loss of life at sea, and prevent the loss of hope that motivates people to risk their lives in the first place.”

UNHCR teams are providing the survivors with medical and humanitarian assistance. This latest incident follows just weeks after a shipwreck where some 150 lives are estimated to have been lost in the worst single incident on the Mediterranean this year.

Following Tuesday’s tragedy, it is estimated that some 900 people have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2019, the UNHCR statement concludes.

Place of safety

As reported earlier this month, International humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Mediteranee have formally requested that the Maltese and Italian maritime authorities take on coordination and support finding a place of safety for 356 people rescued from the Mediterranean, “as the closest coordination centres able to assist, given the lack of response to requests for a place of safety from the Libyan authorities”.

UNHCR is calling for renewed efforts to reduce the loss of life at sea, including a return of EU State search and rescue vessels. Legal and logistical restrictions on NGO search and rescue operations, both at sea and in the air, should be lifted. Coastal states should facilitate, not impede, voluntary efforts to reduce deaths at sea.

“These measures should go hand in hand with increased evacuation and resettlement places from States to move refugees in Libya out of harm’s way.”

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