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Boat packed with refugees sinks, 200 feared drowned

By Agencies in Tripoli, Libya | China Daily | Updated: 2015-08-29 07:21

201 rescued but many victims were trapped in hold as the vessel capsized, according to official

A boat packed with mainly African migrants bound for Italy sank off the Libyan coast on Thursday and officials said up to 200 may have died.

A security official in the western town of Zuwara, from where the overcrowded boat had set off, said there had been around 400 people on board. Many appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized.

By late in the evening, the Libyan coast guard had rescued around 201, of whom 147 were taken to a detention facility for illegal migrants in Sabratha, west of Tripoli, the official said, asking not to be named.

Another local official and a journalist based in Zuwara confirmed the sinking but also had no information on casualties.

The migrants on board were from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, the security official said.

1,400 saved in a day

The Italian coast guard, which has been coordinating rescue operations with the European Union off the Libyan coast, could not confirm a sinking.

The Rome-based authority later said some 1,430 people had been rescued in numerous operations near Libya throughout Thursday, and a merchant ship sent to the aid of a wooden boat carrying 125 people recovered two bodies.

Libya's coast guard has very limited capabilities, relying on small inflatables, tug boats and fishing vessels.

Zuwara, Libya's most western town located near the Tunisian border, is a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy.

Libya has turned into a transit route for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to make it to Europe. Cross-border smuggler networks exploit the country's lawlessness and chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt, or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.

More than 2,300 people have died this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat, compared with 3,279 during the whole of last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Libya has been struggling to cope with an influx of migrants, putting them in overcrowded makeshift detention facilities such as schools or military barracks where they live in poor conditions and lack medical care.

The North African country used to deport the migrants it caught, but with fighting between armed groups having cut off land border crossings to Niger, Algeria and Chad, many stay months or years in detention facilities.

Reuters - AFP

(China Daily 08/29/2015 page9)

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