A boat carrying dozens of migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya on Tuesday. At least 40 people are missing and are presumed drowned.
Search efforts for the missing migrants have reportedly been halted after at least 65 migrants, most of them Sudanese, Tunisian or Egyptian nationals, were rescued from the waters off the Libyan coast, a spokesman for Libya's coast guard, told the Associated Press (AP).
Five people were meanwhile confirmed dead, including a woman and a child from Morocco, whose bodies have been recovered near the western Libyan town of Khoms, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli. The other dead were reported to be men from Sudan and Somalia.
While about 40 people were reported as still missing by eyewitness survivors and therefore presumed dead, Libya's coast guard gave a lower estimate for those feared drowned of 15 to 20 people.
Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat intercepted Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP. He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt.
It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday "rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli", Kacem added.
The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometres west of the capital.
According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.
One body was also recovered by the coastguard.
More than 500 migrants are stuck aboard two rescue vessels off the Libyan coast, rights groups said, as European countries continue to deny them access to a safe place to disembark.
The Ocean Viking rescue ship has picked up 356 people in the Mediterranean Sea since Friday, but the vessel has yet to find safe harbour, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement on Tuesday. The group said the Norwegian-flagged vessel is carrying 103 children, only 11 of whom are accompanied by a guardian.
Another ship, the Spanish-flagged Open Arms, is carrying another 160 people and also has nowhere safe to dock, Reuters news agency reported. MSF said that Libyan authorities have failed to provide a "place to disembark rescued people that meets the requirements of international law".
The group is now calling on the authorities in Malta and Italy to assist in finding a safe place for the migrants to disembark.
"Among the survivors are those bearing the harrowing signs of physical and psychological violence experienced during their journey through Libya," said Jay Berger, an MSF project coordinator who is aboard the Ocean Viking.
The Ocean Viking charity ship rescued the 85 African migrants from the sea off Libya Friday, the latest rescue in the Mediterranean. The vessel, operated by French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), had to call off its initial search during the night and had to wait till dawn broke to finally find the migrant boat -- to applause from the passengers.
After setting off from Libya, they had been spotted on Thursday evening from a plane flying in the European Union's migrant monitoring operation Sophia.
The 85 migrants come from Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast and Sudan. Among them are five women and 15 children. "It was the start of our third day at sea," said a young woman as she clambered aboard Ocean Viking. Crew members continued to scan the waves for a second vessel that set sail at the same time.
In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini fired off a warning to Oslo, where the rescue ship is registered. "Italy is not legally bound, nor disposed to taken in clandestine, unidentified migrants from on board the Ocean Viking," he wrote.
Norway's minister of justice and immigration, Joran Kallmyr, said on public television that the migrants should be "transported back to Africa, either to Tunisia or Libya. They should not be sent to Europe because then this action will be an extension of the refugee route instead of a rescue operation".
Revelations that a European Union-funded group known as the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) has placed at least 200 migrants in a detention centre bombed in July, killing roughly 50 people have raised concerns over EU efforts to stifle immigration.
The LCG has received roughly 91m euros from the European Commission since 2017 to stem migration, all while NGOs that engage in search and rescue operations have come under increasing pressure from EU authorities, especially in Italy and Spain.
The LCG is trained by European authorities, which also claim to monitor their efficacy. But rights groups have long warned the LCG isn’t operating with migrant safety as a priority.
On July 24 the LCG placed 38 intercepted migrants in the Tarjoua detention centre, which was bombed on July 3, killing 58 people. But Doctors Without Borders (MSF) confirmed to Spanish media that roughly 200 were placed there.
Haidi Sadik, the cultural mediator for Sea-Watch a migrant rescue NGO that helps save the lives of people in the Mediterranean, said in an interview that the LCG has previously asked Sea-Watch to place rescued migrants in danger.
Regulations under maritime and international law require that ships who see anyone in danger in the sea be rescued people and taken to a port of safety.
The LCG has even asked a Sea-Watch vessel to take rescued migrants to Tripoli, Libya, in June, calling it a “port of safety”, according to emails the NGO received and Sea-Watch published on social media.
The cultural mediator stressed that Tripoli is not a port of safety for those escaping wars, considering the internal conflict occurring there which some have called a “bloodbath”.