Seventy-six migrants were presumed dead after their boat, which departed from Libya, sank off the coast of Tunisia, the United Nations migration agency said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, there are many of them,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the agency, the International Organization for Migration. “But unfortunately this is nothing new.”
The boat was carrying about 100 people as it left the Libyan port city of Zuwara, likely en route to Italy, and only 24 of them were rescued, the Tunisian branch of the IOM said on Twitter. The Tunisian coastguard, which rescued the castaways on Tuesday, found only one person dead in the water, Mr Di Giacomo said, adding that the 75 other people who were missing were also certainly dead.
“In the sea, people drown in a few minutes,” he said.
The shipwreck brings the total death toll in the central Mediterranean this year to more than 650, according to the IOM, a figure comparable to the same period last year.
“We are consistent,” said Mr Di Giacomo. “People are dying just like last year.”
In a separate incident late Tuesday, a boat belonging to the Spanish NGO Open Arms, which conducts search and rescue at sea, found another boat in trouble near Tunisian territorial waters, the NGO said on Twitter. The organization said its staff tried to distribute life jackets to passengers, who numbered more than 100, and called for help to Italy and Malta, but while they waited for a response, the overcrowded wooden boat, which had already been launched. gone, capsized, and the migrants fell at sea.
The organization said it rescued the migrants from the water, but officials were unsure if some of them were missing.
“It was nighttime and we couldn’t be sure if there were any bodies or not,” said Laura Lanuza, a spokeswoman for the NGO, adding that the migrants had departed from the Libyan port of Abu Kammash and were on their way to Italy. “It was a really dramatic situation.”
On Wednesday, there were 110 migrants on board the organization’s Astral sailboat, but Gerard Canals, the organization’s head of operations, said they had no space, food or water for all the people on board.
“We need a safe harbor to disembark them,” said Mr Canals said in a Twitter video† “We need the authorities to act immediately and provide a safe haven.”
According to the interior ministry, 17,900 migrants arrived in Italy by boat this year, compared to 13,700 in the same period last year. Despite efforts by the European Union to limit the number of African migrants and asylum seekers, thousands are still undertaking this perilous journey, although the number is dwarfed by that of 2016. That year, at the height of the migrant crisis, more than 180,000 people arrived in Italy by sea.
mr. Di Giacomo, the IOM spokesperson, said: the relative increase this year does not justify alarm about a “worrying increase in arrivals by sea”.
But he added that while Europe does not have an emergency in terms of numbers, “it is clear that there is a humanitarian emergency as people continue to die.”
According to the Interior Ministry, arrivals for Ukrainian refugees were much higher, with more than 120,000 entering Italy since the start of the war.
“This cannot be compared to 18,000 who came to sea in five months,” said Mr Di Giacomo. “Now we can put everything into perspective.”