Humanitarian groups condemn European states after migrant deaths

Babar Baloch, UNHCR briefs the press on the situation in Myanmar and Ethiopia, Palais des Nations. 7 September 2018. Photo by Violaine Martin

Humanitarian groups including the Norwegian Council for Refugees and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said European states needed to do more in preventing the deaths ofmigrants after at least 65 people drowned on Friday (May 10) crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The UNHCR said dozens of people had drowned after a boat capsized off the Tunisian coast after they had left Libya hoping to reach Europe.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Council for Refugees (NRC), said that Europeans held a responsibility to avoid the ”mass haemorrhage of human lives” crossing the narrow stretch of sea between North Africa and Europe.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the refugee agency had repeatedly voiced its concerns over a lack of boats to pick up people fleeing from the conflict in Libya.

READ: At least 65 migrants drown off Tunisia coast

It is one of the deadliest shipwrecks this year. In the first four months of 2019, 164 people are known to have died on the route, a smaller number but higher death rate than in previous years, with one dying for every three who reach European shores, UNHCR said.

UNHCR said the sunken boat had taken to the sea on Thursday (May 9) from neighbouring Libya, where renewed warfare between rival factions has gripped the capital Tripoli in the past five weeks.

Libya’s west coast is a main departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe by paying human traffickers, though numbers have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coast guard.

It was not immediately known from which countries the migrants involved in Friday’s tragedy were from.

According to U.N. agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 2,297 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year out of a total of 116,959 people who reached Europe by sea.