Theweekendleader

Reported mass migrant drowning off Libya shocks UN agency

Geneva

23-January-2019

The UN refugee agency has expressed "alarm" over the 170 people who reportedly drowned off Libya over the weekend, urging greater rescue efforts in the Mediterranean and a halt to migrant returns to the chaos-wracked country.

"UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is watching with increasing alarm the situation on the Mediterranean, where over the past few days we have seen two shipwrecks, numerous other rescue incidents, a merchant vessel disembarking rescued individuals to Libya, and reports that the Libyan coast guard itself has been unable to respond to incidents within its designated search and rescue region of the Mediterranean because of shortages of fuel," the agency said.

A vessel with 117 people on board reportedly sank off Libya on Friday, and the second in waters between Morocco and Spain with 53 on board, UNHCR said. Only a handful of survivors were rescued from the shipwrecks, according to the reports.

UNHCR said 4,507 people have crossed to Europe by sea this year "despite bitter cold and great danger" - more than double the the number arriving in the same period of 2018.

The agency also said it must be given access to protection and assistance for migrants in countries of asylum and be allowed to find alternative routes for refugees in Libya trying to cross to Europe.

Migrants who do not have a valid claim to asylum or other forms of international protection must be swiftly helped to return home, the statement said.-IANS