40 migrants feared dead after boat capsizes off Libyan coast: U.N

40 migrants feared dead after boat capsizes off Libyan coast: U.N”

The bodies of at least five migrants were recovered and 65 other migrants were rescued off Libya's northwestern coast, the country's navy said Tuesday.

Charlie Yaxley, from the UNHCR, told Euronews that a rescue operation by local fishermen and the coastguard had been underway since Tuesday morning.

Rescued migrants were brought to a coastal city east of the capital Tripoli where UNHCR teams provided medical and humanitarian assistance.

"If today's tragic numbers are confirmed, the number of people drowned in the Mediterranean in 2019 will have reached close to 900", said Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, who gave the estimate of at least 40 dead or missing, among them women and children, based on eyewitness accounts of the survivors.

Three of those found dead were from Morocco, one was from Sudan and one from Somalia, Qassem said. He said the survivors included people from Sudan, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the coast guard and other Libyan forces to prevent migrants from making the risky journey by sea to Europe.

Alarm Phone, a support group for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, said passengers "were in severe distress, crying and shouting, telling us that people had died already", according to a phone call they received from somebody aboard.

Almost 5,400 migrants had been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan coastguard so far this year, UNHCR has reported.

The number making the voyage declined sharply from mid-2017 after European-backed efforts to disrupt smuggling networks in Libya.

Human rights activists have accused politicians in the European Union of turning a blind eye and letting people die rather than risk a voter backlash by appearing soft on immigration. Clements pledged UNHCR's commitment to work with Libyan authorities in setting up alternatives to detention for more than 4,800 refugees and migrants now being held inside detention centres.

Meanwhile, in Europe, two humanitarian groups that have been flying search-and-rescue missions for refugees and migrants out of the Italian island of Lampedusa said Italy's civil aviation authority to ground their planes.

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