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Some 40 feared dead in shipwreck off Libya, says UN agency

Sixty others may have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, according to UNHCR
Nearly 5,400 migrants had been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan coastguard in 2019, says UNHCR. (AFP)

About 40 people are feared dead or missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sunk off the coast of Libya, the United Nations’ refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Around 60 others may have been rescued, the UNHCR added.

“Terrible news coming in of potentially large loss of life in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya,” UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said on Twitter, adding that details were still unclear.

“Around 60 people have been rescued and returned to shore. At least 40 people are estimated to be dead or missing,” Yaxley said.

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Ayoub Qassem, a Libyan navy spokesperson, confirmed five bodies had been recovered and 65 people were rescued close to the city of Khoms.

Amongst the dead, three were from Morocco, one from Sudan and one from Somalia, Qassem said. UNHCR said most survivors were from Sudan, with others from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Boats overloaded with people trying to reach Europe regularly capsize off the Libyan coast, with thousands dying every year.

More than 100 people died last week and a vessel with 250 migrants capsized last month.

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Nearly 5,400 migrants had been intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan coastguard so far this year, UNHCR has reported.

Libya is a main departure point for people from Africa fleeing poverty and war and trying to reach the European Union, which provides funds to the Libyan Coast Guard as part of its efforts to reduce the numbers crossing the Mediterranean.

Human rights activists have accused politicians in the European Union of turning a blind eye and letting people die rather than risk a voter backlash by appearing soft on immigration. Europe struggled to cope with an influx of more than one million refugees and migrants in 2015.

The Italian interior ministry says 4,862 migrants landed on Italian shores since the beginning of this year.

Italy, many African migrants' intended first destination, has taken a tough line since a populist government took office in 2018, and immediately sought to close the nation's ports to rescued migrants.

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