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Dozens of migrants die after boat sinks off Tunisian coast

Seventy-six migrants have been presumed dead after their boat sank from Libya off the coast of Tunisia, the United Nations migration agency said on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately there are many of them,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the agency, the International Organization for Migration. “But also unfortunately this is nothing new.”

The boat was carrying around 100 people when it left the Libyan port city of Zuwara most likely bound for Italy, and only 24 of them were rescued, IOM’s Tunisian branch said on Twitter. The Tunisian Coast Guard, which rescued the castaways on Tuesday, found only one dead in the water, Di Giacomo said, adding that the other 75 people missing were likely also dead.

“In the sea, people drown within minutes,” he said.

The sinking brings the total death toll in the central Mediterranean this year to more than 650, according to the IOM, a figure similar to the same period last year.

“We are consistent,” Mr Di Giacomo said. “People are still dying just like last year.”

In another incident on Tuesday evening, a boat from the Spanish NGO Open Arms, which operates search and rescue operations at sea, found another boat in difficulty near Tunisian territorial waters, the NGO said on Twitter. The organization said its staff tried to distribute life jackets to the passengers, who numbered more than 100, and appealed to Italy and Malta for help, but as they waited for a response, the overcrowded wooden boat, which had already taken on water, capsized and the migrants fell into the sea.

The organization said it rescued the migrants from the water, but officials were unsure if any of them had gone missing.

“It was dark and we couldn’t know for sure whether there were dead bodies or not,” said Laura Lanuza, a spokesperson for the NGO, adding that the migrants had left from the Libyan port of Abu Kammash and headed for Italy. . “It was a really dramatic situation.”

On Wednesday, 110 migrants were aboard the organization’s Astral sailboat, but Gerard Canals, the organization’s chief operating officer, said they had no space, food or water for all of them. people on board.

“We need a safe port to land them,” Mr Canals said. said in a video on Twitter. “We need the authorities to act immediately and provide a safe harbor.”

This year, 17,900 migrants arrived in Italy by boat, compared to 13,700 in the same period last year, according to the Interior Ministry. Despite European Union efforts to limit the number of African migrants and asylum seekers, thousands are still making the dangerous journey, although the numbers are dwarfed by those of 2016. That year, At the height of the migrant crisis, more than 180,000 people arrived in Italy by sea.

Mr. Di Giacomo, the IOM spokesperson, said that the relative increase this year does not justify alarm at a “worrying increase in arrivals by sea”.

But he added that while Europe does not face an emergency in terms of numbers, “it is clear that there is a humanitarian emergency because people are still dying”.

The number of arrivals has been much higher for Ukrainian refugees, with more than 120,000 entering Italy since the start of the war, according to the Interior Ministry.

“It’s not comparable to the 18,000 who came to the seaside in five months,” said Di Giacomo. “Now we can put everything into perspective.”


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