The International Organization for Migration says at least 90 migrants have drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya early Friday morning. Most of the migrants are believed to have been Pakistanis.
The U.N. migration agency says 10 bodies reportedly have washed up on Libyan shores - two Libyans and eight Pakistani nationals. The agency says information about this latest tragedy is still sketchy and an investigation is underway.
IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon is in Tunisia monitoring the situation. Speaking by telephone from the capital, Tunis, she told VOA the migrants apparently were making the fatal journey on an overcrowded smuggler’s boat.
“So far, there have not been any rescues except one person who was rescued by a fishing boat. That would have been typically a Libyan fisherman and two other survivors who swam to shore. I believe that the Libyan coast guard is looking for other survivors off the coast of Libya at the moment,” Headon said.
Libya is a major transit route for migrants trying to reach Italy. Last year, the European Union was widely criticized for making a deal with the Libyan coast guard to try to stop this traffic.
Most of the migrants and refugees making the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Italy are from Sub-Saharan Africa. It is unusual to have so many Pakistanis making the voyage and IOM data show their numbers are going up.
Last year, IOM says 3,138 Pakistani migrants arrived in Italy by sea from Libya. They were 13th in the list of total migrant arrivals for 2017. This year, it says an estimated 240 Pakistanis reached Italy in January, making them the third highest nationality group so far. In comparison, IOM notes only nine Pakistanis arrived in Italy by sea in January last year.
The agency says it is unclear what is behind the increase in Pakistani migration.