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Five migrants attempting to cross to Europe found dead off Libya

Survivors reported 220 migrants drowning off the Libyan coast in the past week trying to reach Europe
Libya's navy was unable to give details on circumstances of deaths that took place on Saturday (AFP)

Five African migrants died and nearly 200 were rescued off Libya as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the Libyan navy said on Saturday.

In a first operation on Friday, 94 migrants including three children and nine women were rescued 12 nautical miles off Garabulli, east of the Libyan capital Tripoli, after the sinking of their inflatable boat.

Five migrants from Sudan, Nigeria, Chad and Egypt aboard the same boat killed, said General Ayoub Kacem, spokesman for the navy, without specifying the exact circumstances of their deaths.

On board another boat, 91 migrants were rescued in the same area during a separate operation, the spokesman added, noting that the migrants were of different African nationalities.

In total since Wednesday, 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy.

Migrants rescued or intercepted at sea are usually taken to detention centres pending repatriation to their countries of origin.

Due to mild weather, departures from the Libyan coast, close to those of Italy, have increased in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, survivors reported that at least 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the past few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year to more than 1,000, the United Nations said on Thursday.  

Italy's new hardline policy against accepting refugees and migrants from North Africa under its right-wing populist government has failed to stem the flow of people taking to flimsy vessels to reach Europe via the sea from Libya.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it was "shocked" by the deaths and called for urgent action to reduce the continuing loss of life.

"UNHCR is dismayed by the ever-growing number of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean.

"At the same time, access to protection in countries of first asylum should be ensured, as well as alternative pathways for refugees in Libya trying to cross the sea in search of protection and safety. All these steps are crucial to ensure that no more lives are lost at sea," it said.

The Libyan navy on Thursday warned against "a worrying rise in the number of illegal migrants and distress calls from dilapidated boats".

Libya is a country of destination and transit to European shores for thousands of African migrants. Hundreds of them die each year crossing in extreme conditions the Mediterranean towards Italy.

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