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Aid group fears hundreds of migrants drowned off Libya

In this photo released by Proactiva Open Arms NGO on Friday, March 24, 2017 a sunken rubber boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, during a search and rescue operation by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. A Spanish aid organization says it fears hundreds of migrants may have died off the coast of Libya after five bodies were found near two capsized boats and the search for a third vessel reported missing had so far proved futile. (Proactiva Open Arms via AP)
March 24, 2017 - 12:45 PM

MADRID - Hundreds of migrants may have died off Libya's coast, a Spanish aid organization said Friday, and Turkish media reported that 11 migrants died after a boat sank in the Aegean.

Video footage from DHA in Turkey showed a half-dozen covered bodies that were laid out near ambulances. The migrants' boat capsized near the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi and nine people were rescued, the Turkish Coast Guard Command said. It said two people, believed to be smugglers, were detained.

Concerns about the missing migrants near Libya rose after Spain*s Proactiva Open Arms group found five bodies near two capsized boats on Thursday. Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said the German aid organization Jugend Rettet found a sixth body in the area Friday.

The International Organization for Migrations said it had no confirmation of the two boats mentioned by Proactiva near the Libyan coast, but believed the bodies could be part of an earlier wreckage. About 120 people were believed to be on board a smuggler's boat that capsized on March 21, the IOM said, but only 54 were rescued.

Meanwhile, the search for a third vessel reported missing in the area has so far proved futile.

Lanuza said their vessel was expected to arrive Saturday at the Italian port of Catania to hand over the bodies of the five young men who had drowned. Other agencies, meanwhile, continued the search for more possible victims off Libya.

The U.N. refugee agency said it was "deeply alarmed" by the reports. Both it and Proactiva said they feared the death toll may be much higher as migrant dinghies are normally crammed with around 120 people each.

The agency cited NGO sources as saying the five floating corpses of the young men had been recovered 14 miles (22 kilometres) off the Libyan coast near two empty and partially submerged rubber dinghies.

Lanuza said the boats were found Thursday morning, north of the Libyan town of Sabratha. The five men of African origin were estimated to be between 16 and 25 years old and appeared to have drowned, she said.

The Red Crescent in Libya, and the Libyan coast guard, said Friday that they had no reports about dead migrants or capsized boats in Libyan territorial waters.

The UNHCR said the latest incidents come after an intense week of arrivals across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa, with almost 6,000 migrants and refugees rescued in just five days this week.

It said so far this year some 21,903 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to European shores.

The agency said since the beginning of 2017, and excluding the latest incidents, around 590 people have died or have gone missing in crossings.

Last year was the deadliest ever recorded with 5,096 migrants perishing or going missing, according to the UNHCR.

Amnesty International called the European Union's co-operation with the Libyan coast guard to intercept departing smuggling boats full of migrants as a "hopelessly blinkered approach" and urged European leaders to offer safe, legal routes for migrants to enter Europe.

"How high must the body count get before European governments accept that their current strategy isn't working?" said the group's deputy Europe director, Gauri Van Gulik.


Associated Press writers Aritz Parra in Madrid, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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