Latest tragedy off Libya adds to death toll in Mediterranean

News Stories, 8 July 2014

© UNHCR/ F. Noy
Tens of thousands of desperate people are attempting to reach Europe in dangerous boats like these in Libya.

GENEVA, 8 July (UNHCR) A Syrian mother and her two young children were among 12 bodies recovered after the latest boat sinking involving the thousands of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

UNHCR told reporters that so far this year more than 500 people are known to have died trying to cross the sea from Africa and Asia to various countries in Europe. A record 64,000 people traveling in small boats from north Africa have reached Italy alone this year more than in all of 2013.

The Libyan coast guard informed UNHCR on Monday that the dead in the latest accirdent included three Syrians including the mother and her children aged three and six -- three Eritrean nationals and six other Africans of as yet undetermined nationalities, spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing.

The boat, which reportedly capsized off the coast of Tripoli, had a capacity of about 200 passengers and may have been carrying many more people, Edwards said. Search and rescue operations are ongoing and the fate of others who may have been aboard is unknown.

At least 217 people are believed to have drowned off the Libyan coast so far in 2014 while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Another 290 people are confirmed dead or missing from accidents in the waters off Italy, Turkey and Greece, bringing the death toll in the Mediterranean so far this year to over 500 people.

"UNHCR applauds search and rescue operations by government authorities but asks that such operations are further strengthened particularly in areas with high concentrations of boat crossings," Edwards said.

"We are also urging States worldwide to look at providing legal alternatives to dangerous sea journeys such as increased family reunification, speedy resettlement and humanitarian admissions," he said. "Governments are additionally being encouraged to resist punitive or deterrent measures including detention for people seeking safety."

UNHCR's Tripoli and Benghazi offices have registered almost 37,000 asylum-seekers and refugees. Syrians make up the largest group (18,655), followed by Eritreans (4,673), Somalis (2,380) and Iraqis (3,105).

"Not all asylum-seekers are registered," said Edwards. "Many asylum-seekers live in precarious conditions such as over-crowded accommodations with little legal access to employment and have been affected and further displaced by the current unrest in Libya."