Aid group fears hundreds of migrants drowned off Libya

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2017 11:14 AM
Aid group fears hundreds of migrants drowned off Libya

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish aid organization said Friday that it feared hundreds of migrants may have died off Libya's coast, while Turkish media reported that 11 migrants died after a boat sank in the Aegean.

Video footage on the DHA outlet in Turkey showed a half-dozen covered bodies that were laid out near ambulances. The migrants' boat capsized near the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi and nine people were rescued, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said. It said two people, believed to be smugglers, were detained on land.

Concerns about the migrants near Libya rose after Spain*s Proactiva Open Arms group found five bodies near two capsized boats on Thursday. Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said German aid organization Jugend Rettet found a sixth body in the area Friday. In a tweet, the group said "there will be many more."

Meanwhile, the search for a third vessel reported missing in the area has so far proved futile.

Lanuza said their vessel was expected to arrive Saturday at the Italian port of Catania to hand over the bodies of the five young men while other nongovernmental organizations continued the search for more possible victims off Libya.

The U.N. refugee agency said it was "deeply alarmed" by the reports. Both it and Proactiva said they feared the death toll may be much higher as migrant dinghies are normally crammed with around 120 people each.

The agency cited NGO sources as saying the five floating corpses of the young men had been recovered about 14 miles (22 kilometers) off the Libyan coast near two empty and partially submerged rubber dinghies.

Lanuza said the boats were found Thursday morning, north of the Libyan town of Sabratha. The five men of African origin were estimated to be between 16 and 25 years old and appeared to have drowned, she said.

The Red Crescent in Libya, and the Libyan coast guard, said Friday that they had no reports about dead migrants or capsized boats in the 12 miles (20 kilometers) of Libyan territorial waters.

The UNHCR said the latest incidents come after an intense week of arrivals through the Central Mediterranean route with almost 6,000 migrants and refugees rescued in just five days this week.

It said so far this year some 21,903 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to European shores.

The agency said that since the beginning of 2017, and excluding the latest incidents, around 590 people have died or have gone missing in crossings.

Last year was the deadliest ever recorded with 5,096 migrants perishing or going missing, according to the UNHCR.

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Associated Press writers Aritz Parra in Madrid, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this report.