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Migrant crisis: Scores feared drowned off Libyan coast

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The EU has tried to reduce migrant numbers with a highly criticised deal with the Libyan coastguard

Ninety migrants are feared drowned after a boat capsized off the Libyan coast, says the UN’s migration agency.

Three survivors said most of those who drowned were Pakistani nationals.

Libya has for years been a major transit route for migrants trying to reach southern Europe by sea.

But last year the EU reached a controversial deal to provide help to the Libyan coastguard in order to stop the flow of boats carrying migrants and refugees to Italy.

Aid agencies and the UN accused European governments of taking an “inhuman” approach.

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Media captionMany trying to reach Europe have ended up inside Libyan detention centres

“Ten bodies are reported to have washed up on Libyan shores,” the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a statement.

A spokesperson said Pakistanis were increasingly trying to make the perilous crossing to Italy.

While Pakistanis were 13th on a list of the number of migrants trying to reach Europe last year by nationality, so far this year they are third, said the IOM.

Overall this year, the IOM reports that there have been 6,624 arrivals by sea to Europe, compared to 5,983 in the same period of 2017. So far in 2018, 246 migrants are believed to be dead or missing.

Libyans aboard

Unusually, there were also Libyans among the dead and survivors of the shipwreck, reports the BBC’s North Africa correspondent Rana Jawad.

The Facebook page of the security directorate in the coastal city of Zuwara, where the bodies washed up, said a Libyan woman had drowned, but that, of the three survivors, two were Libyan nationals.

Libyans rarely attempt the dangerous and illegal boat journey from their country to southern Europe.

Some cases of illegal Libyan migration were documented last year, but they usually involved sturdier boats that were carrying few people.

The latest deaths come just after the EU border agency Frontex announced the launch of Operation Themis on Thursday.

Unlike its previous mission, known as Triton, migrants rescued at sea will now be taken to the country that is co-ordinating the rescue, rather than just Italy.

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