Geneva — The United Nations refugee agency says the death toll of migrants trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise. The UNHCR says 12 bodies have been recovered in the latest tragedy, which occurred when a boat overturned soon after departing from Libya.
The victims of this tragedy include a Syrian mother and her two small children, three Eritrean nationals and six other Africans of undetermined nationalities. The U.N. refugee agency said it was informed about the accident on Monday, although the boat capsized off the coast of Tripoli on Sunday.
It said the boat, which was meant for 200 passengers, was probably carrying many more people than it could hold.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said search and rescue operations to find possible survivors or to recover the bodies of other victims were continuing. He said it was likely other people aboard the ship may have perished.
"UNHCR applauds the search and rescue operations being run by government authorities but asks that such operations are further strengthened, particularly in areas with high concentrations of boat crossing. We are also urging states worldwide to look at providing legal alternatives to dangerous sea journeys. These might include family reunification, speeded resettlement and humanitarian government admissions. Governments are additionally being encouraged to resist punitive or deterrent measures including detention for people seeking safety," he said.
The UNHCR reports more than 500 people have lost their lives this year while crossing the Mediterranean. This includes 217 people believed to have drowned off the Libyan coast and at least 288 others confirmed dead or missing from boat accidents in the waters off Italy, Turkey and Greece.
Italian authorities said 64,000 migrants have arrived on their shores since the start of the year. The Italian government has asked other European nations for help in coping with the influx.
Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said it has registered nearly 37,000 asylum-seekers and refugees in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. It said Syrians made up the largest group, followed by Eritreans, Somalis and Iraqis.
The UNHCR said many asylum seekers lived in precarious conditions -- but that many would risk their lives on the perilous Mediterranean crossing in a desperate bid to find refuge from wars and persecution and, in some cases, poverty and unemployment.