More than 100 migrants are missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya in what could be the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean this year, according to aid agencies.
Up to 150 people are missing and feared to have drowned after a wooden boat carrying migrants capsized off Libya, a Libyan navy official said on Thursday.
Another 134 were rescued by coast guards and local fishermen.
“The worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year has just occurred,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi said in a tweet.
There were about 250 people on board, mainly from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan Africa and Arab countries, when the boat sunk off the coast near Komas, east of the capital Tripoli, Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.
Libya is a hub for migrants and refugees, many of whom try to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats.
The latest shipwreck takes the death toll of Mediterranean migrants to over 600 this year, putting 2019 on track to be the sixth year in a row with more than 1,000 deaths, UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley said.
“Until we address the reasons why people take these dangerous boat journeys, sadly, this is unlikely to be the last tragedy like this that we see,” he said.
Yaxley said survivors of the wreck were likely to be brought to two detention centres in Libya where they would face further risks, and he called for their immediate release.
“We know that inside these detention centres there’s insufficient food, water, often unsanitary conditions, there have been widespread reports of human rights violations taking place,” he said.
Libya said the migrants are illegally entering and leaving the country.
It regularly detains them in centres that the UN said are effectively jails, exposing them to the added risk of being caught up in the country’s civil war.