LIBYA

Scores of migrants drown as boat capsizes off Libya

AFP file picture

A boat carrying approximately 250 African migrants headed for Europe capsized off the Libyan coast on Sunday, officials said, confirming that dozens had drowned in the accident.

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Only 36 people have been rescued so far - including one pregnant woman - according to coast guard spokesman Ayub Qassem.

“There are so many dead bodies floating in the sea,” Qassem said.

Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa, mostly from restive Libya, in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. The majority head for the nearest European country, Italy.

So far in 2014, more than 100,000 migrants have reached Italian shores, the government there said this week.

More than 700 people fleeing Africa and the Middle East may have drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean over the last week, bringing the death toll this year to almost 3,000, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Monday.

Last week, a vessel believed to have carried as many as 500 migrants from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt and Sudan capsized near Malta after human traffickers rammed and sank their boat in the Mediterranean.

It emerged on Monday, almost all of the people onboard died according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

"Two survivors brought to Sicily told us that there had been at least 500 people on board. Nine other survivors were rescued by Greek and Maltese ships, but all the rest appear to have perished," IOM's spokesman in Italy, Flavio Di Giacomo, said.

According to the survivors, the migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on September 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.

The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto another, smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them.

When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the traffickers reportedly rammed their boat until it capsized, the organisation said.

Italian police have opened an inquiry into the shipwreck.

According to the Italian navy, some 2,380 migrants and asylum seekers were rescued over the weekend by Italy's large-scale naval deployment dubbed "Mare Nostrum", launched after over 400 people died in two shipwrecks last October.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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