Voice of America (Washington, DC)

11 May 2014

Africa: Dozens of Migrants Drown Off Libyan Coast

At least 36 people drowned and more than 40 missing after a boat carrying African migrants capsized off the Libyan coast late last week. Twenty-four of the victims' bodies were found Sunday.

Libyan naval officials say they rescued 52 people of various nationalities. A naval spokesman says the bottom of the boat collapsed shortly after it left shore causing the vessel to sink.

Survivors say the boat had about 130 people on board.

The vessel appeared to have gotten into difficulty around 37 miles east of Tripoli, Rami Kaal, a spokesman for the Libyan ministry of interior said.

Libya's porous borders with its sub-Saharan neighbors and its proximity to Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean have made the North African country a common transit route for migrants trying to reach Europe.

With their coast guard, navy and armed forces ill-equipped and still in training, Libyan officials want more help from Western partners to stem the flow of illegal migrants trying to cross through Libya to Europe. On Saturday, Libya's interior minister cautioned European leaders that his country would help migrants reach Europe if the European Union did not do more to assist his country.

In March, Italy's navy rescued more than 4,000 migrants from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily in just four days.

Many migrants pay more than $1,000 to criminal gangs for the sea journey from Libya, where the government struggles to control a country still full of weapons and brigades of former rebels since the civil war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Many would-be migrants leave from cities along Libya's 1,600 kilometer coastline hoping to make their way to Malta or the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Some information in this report was contributed by Reuters.

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