GENEVA/TRIPOLI • An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler's boat capsized early yesterday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the United Nations migration agency said.
Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Olivia Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing.
"They have given an estimate of 90 who drowned during the capsize, but we still have to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy," she said.
Earlier, security officials in the western Libyan town of Zuwara said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. They said 10 bodies had been recovered, mostly Pakistani, but gave no further information. Zuwara, near Libya's border with Tunisia, is a favoured site for migrant boat departures.
Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since last July as Libyan factions and authorities - under pressure from Italy and the European Union - have begun to block departures. The IOM has repeatedly issued warnings over the extreme dangers facing migrants who try to reach Europe via the so-called central Mediterranean route, which connects Libya to Italy.
More than 600,000 people are believed to have made the journey from Libya to Italy over the past four years. Excluding yesterday's tragedy, 218 migrants have already died on the central route this year, according to IOM figures.
On the eastern Mediterranean route that connects Turkey and Greece, which has been used by 1,089 so far this year, no fatalities have yet been recorded this year. Meanwhile, 28 migrants have died this year on the western route that links North Africa to Spain, the IOM said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE