Almost 200 illegal migrants feared dead off Libya’s Zawiya shores

African illegal migrants on an NGO boat after being rescued off Libyan coast (Internet)

Almost 200 people are feared to have died in two Mediterranean Sea migrant shipwrecks during the weekend.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Libya said that seven people were rescued off the north-western city of Zawiya, and one of them said 113 others were missing.

The information was posted on Twitter and confirmed by an IOM spokesman in Rome, Flavio Di Giacomo.

Separately, 80 people died on Saturday after the rubber dinghy they were travelling on overturned, according to the ANSA news agency, which sourced its report from survivors’ accounts to Italian prosecutors.

The sea channel between Italy and Libya is the world’s busiest and most dangerous sea migration route. More than 6600 people were rescued there between Friday and Sunday.

On Sunday, the head of the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, said more than 1150 people died or went missing since the start of the year in sea crossings to Europe, and that the mortality rate on the Libya-Italy route was 1 in 35.

Grandi praised efforts by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), noting they had carried out one third of rescue operations since January 1, and renewed calls for EU authorities to open legal migration channels to spare people from dangerous sea journeys.

NGO involvement in sea rescues has become controversial since an Italian prosecutor accused them of acting in cahoots with Libyan people smugglers. The prosecutor says he has suspicions but no proof; the NGOs have rejected all charges.

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