Dozens feared dead as migrant boat capsizes

Migrants are seen in a rubber dinghy as they are rescued by Libyan coast guards off the coast of Libya, 15 January 2015Image copyright

Image caption

A UN report says six migrants died every day in 2018 trying to cross the Mediterranean (file image)

At least 65 migrants are thought to have died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tunisia.

There were 16 survivors, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Survivors say the boat left Zuwara in Libya on Thursday and ran into trouble during strong waves.

About 164 people died on the route between Libya and Europe in the first four months of 2019, the UNHCR says.

How were the survivors rescued?

The incident is thought to be one of the deadliest shipwrecks involving migrants since the start of the year.

The survivors were brought to the coast by the Tunisian Navy and are awaiting permission to disembark. One person has been transferred to hospital for medical treatment, the UNHCR says.

The navy dispatched a ship as soon as it heard about the incident and came across a fishing boat picking up survivors, a statement from the Tunisian defence ministry said.

A Maltese helicopter was also mobilised, reports said.

The passengers are understood to have been from sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is a tragic and terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” the UNHCR’s Vincent Cochetel said in a statement.

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Media captionWomen and children are being held in camps close to fierce fighting in Libya’s capital Tripoli

Why has the number of migrant crossings been falling?

Thousands of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe every year, and Libya is a key departure point.

Those who make the journey often travel in poorly maintained and overcrowded ships, and many have died.

But since mid-2017, the number of migrant journeys across the route has declined dramatically.

In the first three months of 2019, some 15,900 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the three Mediterranean routes – a 17% decrease on the same period in 2018.

The decline is largely because Italy has engaged Libyan forces to stop migrants from setting off or to return them to Libya if found at sea – a policy condemned by human rights organisations.

However, the BBC’s James Reynolds, in Rome, says that while numbers may have declined, the capsizing off the coast of Tunisia shows that migrant journeys across the Mediterranean remain extremely dangerous.

In January, a UN report said six migrants died crossing the Mediterranean every day in 2018.

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