UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Gambia's president on Thursday demanded a United Nations investigation into the "manmade sinking, capsizing" of boats carrying migrants to Europe, saying 500 citizens of his African country had died in such incidents in the past five years.
Migrants have been streaming out of North Africa, mostly lawless Libya, in rickety boats in rising numbers for years. Many head for Italy, a gateway to the European Union. Nearly 3,000 of those migrants have drowned in shipwrecks this year, the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), said last week.
Earlier this month, as many as 500 migrants are believed to have died after traffickers rammed their ship off Malta's coast, leaving only nine survivors. The migrants were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese, an IOM official said.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh described these incidents as "the very dangerous, racist and inhuman behavior of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink."
"The U.N. must conduct a full and impartial investigation into this manmade sinking, capsizing of these boats carrying young Africans to Europe," Jammeh said.
"If these boats are able to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea only to sink on European coasts, we must find out what deadly mysterious force exists on the European Mediterranean coasts that causes boats carrying young Africans to disintegrate and sink upon arrival," he said.
Some 130,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, compared with 60,000 last year, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Italy has received more than 118,000, most of them rescued at sea under its naval operation Mare Nostrum.
Half of those arriving in Europe by boat are refugees from Syria and Eritrea, according to the agency.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)