New migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

New migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

New migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

AFP photo

The bodies of at least 104 migrants washed up on a Libyan beach on June 3, as a new migrant boat tragedy unfolded in the Mediterranean south of Greece.

Hundreds of migrants were rescued from a sinking ship off the island of Crete, with hundreds more feared missing.

The Libyan navy, meanwhile, stated that it had found the bodies of at least 104 migrants on the shore in the western Libyan town of Zuwarah, warning that the toll could rise.

“The number of bodies retrieved on Thursday [June 2] evening was 104 but the toll is expected to rise as an average boat carries 115 to 125 passengers,” said Libyan navy spokesman Colonel Ayoub Qassem.

The death toll in the southern Mediterranean has mounted in recent weeks as migrants attempt sea crossings from North Africa to Europe. More than 2,000 people have died. 

Greek authorities said 340 people were rescued, but four bodies were also recovered in a location some 75 nautical miles off southern Crete, in territory that falls under Egypt’s search and rescue jurisdiction. 

There was no immediate word on how many people may be missing and Greek coastguard officials refused to speculate. Greek media carried unsourced accounts that the vessel was carrying between 500 and 700 people. It was not immediately clear where the boat had sailed from. 

“From some scattered accounts we have heard [from those rescued] they set off from the African coastline,” coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos told Reuters. 

Merchant ships sailing in the area assisted the operation, with about 242 people rescued taken to Italy and others to Egypt, Turkey and Malta, the Greek coastguard said. 

Hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees crossed the short but precarious sea corridor to Greece from Turkey last year in small inflatable boats, but that route was effectively sealed after an EU-Turkey clampdown in March. 

Now, warm weather and calmer seas in the Mediterranean have led to a surge in recent weeks in the number of people trying to cross to Italy from Libya, where people-smugglers operate with relative impunity. 

Boats on this much longer journey risk being blown off course to islands such as Crete. The incident on June 3 was the third in a week involving migrant rescues or landings on the island.

Qassem criticized the failure of the international community to deal with the problem, saying it limits itself to “counting bodies and issuing statements.”

The Zuwarah municipality also regretted what it called “the strange silence of all those in charge,” including Libyan government officials and NGOs.

A statement on its Facebook page said Zuwarah “lacks all the means necessary to deal with such a problem.”