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Published: Mon, January 16, 2017
World | By Tasha Manning

Almost 100 refugees missing after boat sinks off Libya

Almost 100 refugees missing after boat sinks off Libya

Many migrants have died trying to make the perilous trip from North Africa to Europe, with Libya being a popular jumping-off point.

The migrants were picked up from four inflatable dinghies by coastguard vessels as well as an Italian naval ship, an NGO boat and a merchant vessel.

People smugglers have exploited the chaos in Libya since the 2011 ouster of leader Muammar Gaddafi to traffic refugees and migrants in boats to Italy 300km away.

Coastguard and naval ships as well as privately owned fishing and merchant vessels rescued the people from six boats in the central Mediterranean over the last 24 hours, a coastguard spokesman said.

The U.N. refugee agency has reported a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors reaching Italy: 25,846 last year, more than double the previous year. Many of those making the journey are children.

He added that the weather conditions are "extremely bad", speaking to The Independent.

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In another incident, the bodies of six migrants were found washed up on beaches near Algeciras, the port on the southern tip of Spain near Gibraltar, the Spanish sea rescue service said on Saturday.

According to UNICEF the majority are originating from Nigeria, Gambia, Eritrea and Egypt.

While most of the children were boys aged 15 to 17 years, Unicef said younger children and girls have also been among the new arrivals.

Rescue workers warn that the crisis is showing no sign of slowing in the Central Mediterranean, which has become the main route since the EU-Turkey deal was implemented in March to reduce comparatively shorter and safer crossings over the Aegean Sea.

"These figures indicate an alarming trend of an increasing number of highly vulnerable children risking their lives to get to Europe", said Lucio Melandri, the Senior Emergency Manager at UNICEF.

He called for a coordinated European response given that the children were on the move. "It is obviously clear that we have a serious and growing problem on our hands".

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