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22 February 2024

15 dead, 40 lost from boat off Libya: Somali envoy


At least 15 Somali migrants were killed and 40 left missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya this week, the Somali ambassador to Tripoli said Saturday.

"Fifteen bodies, including one child and 12 women, were recovered off the coast of Misrata after their boat sank," ambassador Abdelghami Wais told AFP, adding the bodies were found Wednesday on the shore of the western port city.

The boat had been carrying 55 Somalis, Wais said, and the other passengers were still missing. "I've just returned from Misrata after the burials," the envoy said.

The International Organisation of Migration, contacted by AFP, said it was unaware of the accident.

Libya has for decades been a destination and a transit country to European shores for hundreds of thousands of African migrants seeking jobs and a better life.

The ousted regime of slain dictator Moammer Gaddafi used the issue to exert pressure on Europe and asked for five billion euros (more than 6.5 billion dollars) from the European Union last year to stem the flow of illegals.

The new rulers of the North African country have adopted a different approach, with Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali saying Libya will not be the "border guard" for Europe.

Citing "enormous problems" for Libya caused by the influx of thousands of migrants, Abdelali called upon Europe and neighbouring countries to help deal with the flow.

He specifically asked for assistance to rehabilitate 19 detention centres and with a system of border surveillance.

On January 19, interior ministry spokesman General Abdelmonem al-Tunsi told AFP that illegal immigration had resumed since the end of the anti-Gaddafi revolt.

He said thousands of people from unrest-swept Syria were also entering through the Massad terminal on the border with Egypt, apart from Africans infiltrating through the southern borders.

Tunsi said that on January 10 the authorities intercepted 260 such illegal migrants who were aided by three Libyans armed with Kalashnikovs.

He said the flood of illegal immigrants began at the end of the conflict as the country's borders were not fully guarded.

When the anti-Gaddafi revolt erupted in February, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants fled Libya and few dared venture into the North African nation while fighting against Gaddafi's forces raged last year.