Libya boat mishap 'worst Mediterranean tragedy' of 2019 - UNHCR chief

Libya boat mishap 'worst Mediterranean tragedy' of 2019 - UNHCR chief”

The U.N. refugee agency says 164 migrants have died traveling from Libya to Europe since the start of the year, fewer than in previous years.

The UNHCR earlier said it understood as many as 150 people were missing and 150 people had been rescued by local fishermen and returned to Libya by coastguards.

There were about 250 people on board, mainly from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan Africa and Arab countries, when the boat capsized off the coast near Komas, east of the capital Tripoli, Libyan Navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.

If confirmed, the number of dead would be the highest for a shipwreck in the Mediterranean this year.

The U.N. has routinely declined the sending of rescued migrants to Libya, citing the chaotic nature of political events in the country.

Also Friday, Libyan authorities transferred dozens of migrants rescued from the disaster to a detention center near Tripoli that was hit by an airstrike earlier this month despite United Nations objections to such a move, the United Nations refugee agency said.

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Thomas Garofalo, director for Libya at the International Rescue Committee, an advocacy group that helps with global humanitarian crises, said migrants "intercepted at sea must not be returned to Libya". It said this month that thousands of migrants and refugees remained arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli in conditions that it described as inhumane.

Following the uprising in Libya that killed its dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, migrants from the country have attempted to cross the seas for a better life in European countries.

Grandi called on European nations to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean, halted after an EU decision, and appealed for an end to migrant detentions in Libya. However, this has also fuelled trafficking and have led to exploitation by armed groups of migrants, according to The Telegraph.

"It comes just weeks after more than 50 people lost their lives in a detention centre following an airstrike in Tajoura, and really once again stresses the [need] for a shift in approach to the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean". More than 200 detainees are still being held at the facility, which is close to where rival Libyan factions have been fighting. But the agency says the journey is becoming more risky for those who attempt it, with one out of four perishing at sea before reaching Europe. The UN has voiced concern for their safety.

The UN's death toll of 154 did not include those reported missing at sea Thursday.

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