The death toll for migrants trying to reach southern Europe by sea has reached around 900 this year, the UN Refugee Agency said as Libya’s coastguard recovered bodies from the latest major shipwreck.
The coastguard said on Tuesday it found five dead migrants and rescued 65 others in the Mediterranean Sea after their Europe-bound boat sank east of the capital Tripoli.
Estimates of the magnitude of the accident varied. While Libyan authorities said that between 15 and 20 people were still missing, a UNHCR statement from Geneva talked of least 40 dead or missing.
The boat was near the coastal city of al-Khoms, the Libyan navy said in a statement, adding that the bodies of three men, a woman and a child were retrieved.
The navy said the search operation was over and fishermen in the area were told to watch out for any bodies surfacing.
The majority of those rescued are from Sudan, while the others are from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, according to the statement.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 revolt that toppled long-time dictator Muammer Gaddafi.
In recent years, the country has been a major transit route for migrants, mostly Africans, trying to reach Europe by boat, with many thousands being rescued by authorities or aid groups but many other drowning at sea.
According to the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are some 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Libya who have escaped violence or persecution in their home countries, as well as an additional 800,000 migrants in search of economic opportunities abroad.
The UNHCR indirectly criticised Italy for its refusal to let migrant boats land, when it said that “coastal states should facilitate, not impede, voluntary efforts to reduce deaths at sea”.