Free Press Journal

At least 300 migrants unaccounted-for in new sea tragedy: UN


Rome: The UN refugee agency says as many as 300 people are now unaccounted-for in the latest tragedy among migrants crossing the frigid Mediterranean. The spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Carlotta Sami, says survivors have confirmed the existence of a fourth rubber boat that left Libya on Sunday.

In a statement, the UNHCR says that means some 300 people are missing. Earlier, the agency cited survivors as saying 203 people had died in the crossing. The UN, Save the Children and other aid organizations are sharply criticizing the new EU border patrol operation as
inadequate for saving lives.

The EU took over Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation last year, but it only patrols close to Europe’s coast. Italy had patrolled the waters up to Libya’s coast. Survivors of another deadly Mediterranean crossing reported that at least 200 migrants and possibly many more died in frigid temperatures in the open-sea crossing from Libya to Europe, the UN refugee agency said today.

The deaths add to the 29 reported earlier in the week by the Italian coast guard, which said the victims had died of hypothermia during the voyage that began Sunday in Libya.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said survivors reported that at least a further 203 people travelling in three rubber boats had died. It quoted survivors as saying there was a fourth boat, and said if its existence is confirmed, the toll would rise.

The agency’s spokeswoman in Italy, Carlotta Sami, said 203 people had been “swallowed up by the waves,” the youngest aged 12.

UNHCR blasted the new EU-backed rescue patrol as ineffective for saving lives. The European Union took over Mediterranean patrols after Italy phased out its robust Mare Nostrum operation, launched after 360 migrants died in 2013.

But the EU’s Triton mission only operates a few miles off Italy’s coast, whereas Mare Nostrum patrols took Italian rescue ships up close to Libya’s coast, where most of the smuggling operations originate.

“The Triton operation doesn’t have as its principal mandate saving human lives, and thus cannot be the response that is urgently needed,” Laurens Jolles, the head of the UN agency for southern Europe, said in a statement.