UNHCR Report: An Estimated 500 African Migrants May Have Drowned Off the Coast of Libya

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Migrants sit in a rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa in this handout received April 18, 2016. SOS Mediterranee/Handout via REUTERS
Migrants sit in a rubber dinghy during a rescue operation by SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa in this handout received April 18, 2016. SOS Mediterranee/Handout via REUTERS

Up to 500 migrants trying to reach Europe may have drowned off north Africa last week, the United Nations’ refugee agency and an aid organization said Wednesday, although exact details of the tragedy remained unclear.

“If confirmed, as many as 500 people may have lost their lives when a large ship went down in the Mediterranean Sea at an unknown location between Libya and Italy,” UNHCR said in a statement.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said survivors had given similar accounts to its workers and that the wreck may have “caused the deaths of upwards of 400 migrants and refugees.”

It came almost exactly a year after more than 800 migrants — including children — drowned when their crowded ship capsized during an attempt to reach Italy from Libya. Only 28 people were known to have survived that incident — the worst maritime disaster the agency has ever recorded in the Mediterranean.

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