Libyan coastguard recovers bodies after asylum seeker boat capsizes

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A migrant tries to adjust a sheet on the boat’s deck

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Rescuers scramble to help migrants off the boat

Dozens of refugees have made a perilous attempt to reach the UK using a boat that capsized off the Libyan coast.

The Libyan coastguard recovered 33 bodies on Thursday night, and five survivors were brought to the Libyan coastal town of Derna.

The remainder of the 208 passengers were left on the bed of the boat, as the Libyan authorities struggle to cope with a huge influx of migrants.

Thousands have been making the perilous journey after traffickers took advantage of the so-called “quiet season” when sea conditions are calmer.

The deaths had been expected, but reminders of their plight helped to increase the pressure on the international community to address the plight of the refugees.

On Thursday, the main European Union border agency Frontex called on the European Parliament to support the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the UN agency that runs the most comprehensive refugee and migrant relocation system in the world.

Humanitarian groups have also been working in the region to assist with rescue operations, with the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Raquel Rolnik, earlier describing it as “Europe’s biggest humanitarian crisis of our time”.

Struggling to cope

In Libya, Libya is the main gateway for refugees who are trying to reach Europe.

Over the past two years, more than half a million migrants have arrived in Italy by boat, where they have a high risk of death.

Thousands more have died in the attempt – making the route even more dangerous for those making it.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Men wait to be evacuated from the boat, with the survivors still trapped inside

On Thursday, the Libyan coastguard rescued 97 passengers and found 32 bodies as they travelled near the town of Khalifa Zweibah.

Dozens of more people remain missing. Those who survived were taken to the coastal town of Derna.

Despite the deaths, the arrival of those from North Africa into Europe is so high that news of the capsizing has focused more attention on it.

Steve Bloomfield, deputy director of communications at the IOM in the Middle East and North Africa, said conditions for refugees in Libya were getting worse, with more people being trapped in unsanitary, makeshift camps.

He said there was urgent need for migrant camps to be built in the future – but that this is “going to take a lot of investment”.

There are already 1,800 camps in Libya, many without electricity, sanitation, or proper hygiene.

He warned against describing the situation as one of conflict and “massive malnourishment” as many of the camps are home to women and children.

“In truth, it’s just really bad,” he said.

“The families who are being housed in camps have experienced trauma, and consequently, they’re suffering from the inability to manage food, water and sanitation.”

Two government ministries and a host of non-governmental organisations are working to aid those making the journey to Europe.

The chairman of IOM’s mission in Libya, Kurt Baumgartner, said they welcomed international efforts to tackle the crisis.

But he said they needed more help to deal with the number of people in Libyan camps.

Mr Baumgartner said the local Red Crescent alone had to carry out about 10 rescue missions on Thursday alone.

“Many of them were not even wearing life vests, because people were not going to their boats even if they knew that the boats had capsized,” he said.

“So it’s not so clear-cut as one would think. There are countries who are not offering support for refugees and migrants in Libya.”

European officials have promised to support the IOM with more training, particularly for air power and boats – but say this will not be sufficient in dealing with the challenge posed by the exodus of refugees to the Continent.

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