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UNHCR shocked by mass drownings off Libya, calls for urgent action

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UNHCR shocked by mass drownings off Libya, calls for urgent action

21 June 2018
Libya. Intercepted refugees and migrants arrive in Tripoli
UNHCR staff wait in Tripoli to assist refugees and migrants upon disembarkation in May 2018.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is shocked and saddened by reports that some 220 people drowned off Libya in recent days while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

According to survivors, a wooden boat carrying an unknown number of refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Libya on Tuesday (19 June). Out of the estimated 100 passengers, only five survived. They were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Mayia in the outskirts of the capital Tripoli. The survivors have been taken to a local hospital by the authorities for medical treatment. A number of bodies have been retrieved by rescuers or washed up on the beaches.

The same day, a rubber dinghy with some 130 people on board sunk at a different location off the Libyan coast. Sixty survivors were rescued by local fishermen, who took them back to shore in Dela (35 km west from Tripoli). Seventy people are believed to have drowned in this incident.

On 20 June, the Libyan Coast Guard conducted a rescue operation off Garabulli, 64 kilometers east of Tripoli. The refugees and migrants rescued were disembarked in Tajoura. The survivors reported that over 50 people travelling with them had perished.

UNHCR is dismayed by the ever-growing number of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean. At the same time, access to protection in countries of first asylum should be ensured, as well as alternative pathways for refugees in Libya trying to cross the sea in search of protection and safety. All these steps are crucial to ensure that no more lives are lost at sea.

On Monday (18 June) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi tossed a bouquet of flowers into the sea at Abu Setta in Libya before leading a moment of silence to commemorate the thousands of refugees and migrants who have perished at sea trying to reach Europe.

"These tragic deaths are a reminder that wars and poverty continue to drive people to take desperate journeys that cost them their life savings, their dignity and ultimately their lives,” said Grandi.

“With record numbers of people on the run, it has never been more urgent to address root causes, improve conditions in Libya and other countries along the route, provide safe alternatives and, always, rescue people at sea."

These latest fatalities have pushed the death toll in the Central Mediterranean route to over 1,000 in 2018. As the summer season starts, it is expected that the number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean will increase. So far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard has disembarked more than 8,000 people at disembarkation points along the Libyan coast. UNHCR and its partners are present at these points to provide food, water, relief items and medical assistance upon disembarkation. UNHCR is also working to ensure access to asylum seekers from all nationalities and that alternatives to detention are available for refugees rescued or intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard.


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