At least five migrants died and more than 90 were missing after their boat capsized off Libya’s western coast, a major embarkation point for the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe, the Libyan coast guard said Thursday.
Spokesman Ayoub Gassim told The Associated Press that the damaged vessel was found the day before, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) out from the western coastal city of Zuwara. The Europe-bound boat had set out last Friday from the nearby city of Sabratha before it ran out of fuel.
It was carrying some 130 migrants, mostly Africans, Gassim said. The coast guard and families living nearby rescued 30 migrants, including five women and a child, but one of the men died shortly after being pulled from the sea, he added.
Libya has become one of the main migrant transit points to Europe as traffickers have exploited the chaos following the 2011 uprising. The vast North African country is home to competing governments and parliaments, with real power held by an array of militias, many of which make money from trafficking.
The European Union has given tens of millions of euros to Libyan authorities to try to stem the flow of migrants. The funds have mainly gone to beefing up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants in detention centers.
In August, Italy reached a verbal agreement with the country’s internationally recognized but weak western government to provide equipment, boats and salaries to militias working to prevent migrants from attempting the crossing.
Militia and security officials detailed the arrangement to The Associated Press last month , saying many of the militias recruited to choke off the migrant flow were previously implicated in the trafficking.
The U.N. migration agency says more than 130,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea since the start of 2017, less than half the figure from the previous year. Three-quarters of the arrivals this year have landed in Italy, with the rest arriving in Greece, Cyprus and Spain. Some 2,500 migrants have died attempting the Mediterranean crossing this year, down from around 3,200 during the same period in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration.