Rabat - About 146 migrants are feared missing after their boat capsized after leaving Libya, according to a 17-year-old Gambian youth, Kalifa Kujabi, who was rescued following the disaster, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday. He is presumed to be the only survivor.
Rabat – About 146 migrants are feared missing after their boat capsized after leaving Libya, according to a 17-year-old Gambian youth, Kalifa Kujabi, who was rescued following the disaster, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday. He is presumed to be the only survivor.
The 16-year-old was barely conscious when he was spotted by the Luventa, a ship belonging to the German organisation, Jugend Rettet. He was then brought onto a Spanish military ship participating in the EU’s “Operation Sophia,” an initiative to crack down on smugglers, before being taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Describing his ordeal to a member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who met him at a hospital in Lampedusa, the teenager said the vessel left on Sunday or Monday from Sabratha, northwestern Libya.
Among those on board were five children and several pregnant women among those on board. Most of the passengers, he said, were from Nigeria, Mali and The Gambia.
He said that the boat began taking on water a few hours after setting off, and that he survived by holding on to a fuel can. According to a report in Telesur, when asked why he decided to make the perilous journey, Kujabi explained, “My brother back home convinced me to make the trip.” A talented footballer back in Gambia, Kujabi said his brother told him that he could “only have a future as a soccer player in Europe.”
UNHCR said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened” by this latest tragedy, which “comes as a stark reminder of the vital importance of robust research and rescue capacities.”
Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, excluding this latest capsizing, the IOM estimates. “Saving lives at sea must remain the key priority for all and UNHCR commends the action of the Italian Coast Guard in coordination with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency,” UNHCR’s Volker Turk said. The dangers, however, have not slowed the surge in arrivals this year.
Just Wednesday morning, humanitarian vessel, the Golfo Azzurro, rescued approximately 400 people from North Africa, including Morocco, found adrift in a wooden boat without power. They were located ten miles off the coast of Sabratha.
According to the Italian coastguard, in total, it orchestrated the rescue of more than 1,100 migrants off Libya between Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The coastguard is transferring them to Sicily, which will bring the total number of arrivals to Italy this year to more than 24,000, a sharp increase from the same period last year.
Nongovernmental organisations say the increase reflects worsening living conditions in Libya as well as fears, whipped up by smugglers, that Europe will soon block off the Mediterranean passage for good.