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Hundreds of migrants feared dead in capsize off Libya

Italian Navy, AFP I File photo

Hundreds of migrants attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean are feared to have drowned after their overcrowded fishing boat capsized off the Libyan coast, the Italian coastguard said on Wednesday.

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The fishing vessel carrying up to 700 people had run into difficulty and sent out a distress call, but it overturned when many of the migrants rushed to one side as the first rescue vessel came into sight.

The Italian Coast Guard and the UN refugee agency UNHCR said about 400 people had been rescued and 25 bodies had been recovered so far.

Two vessels, the Doctors Without Borders ship Dignity One and an Irish patrol vessel called Le Niamh, were immediately dispatched to the scene, Italy's coast guard said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a press release on Tuesday that nearly 2,000 migrants are confirmed to have died so far this year crossing the Mediterranean, outpacing last year's death toll.

The IOM said that about 1,930 perished trying to reach Italy in unseaworthy boats, most of them seeking to escape the lawlessness and political chaos in Libya.

Another 60 died trying to reach Greece.

By the same time last year the IOM says 1,607 migrants had perished, with the death toll at year's end reaching 3,279.

IOM chief William Lacy Swing called the deaths of migrants fleeing conflict and other hardships in their native countries "unacceptable".

Migration and coast guard officials also note that not all migrant deaths are known or recorded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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