GENEVA - Several Somali refugees have drowned while fleeing by boat from Libya to Malta, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Details are are still sketchy and an investigation is under way.
The U.N. refugee agency reports a boat carrying 90 Somali refugees landed on one of Malta's most popular beaches over the weekend. Spokesman Adrian Edwards said exhausted survivors only now are reporting to UNHCR staff some of the events of this ill-fated journey.
"These survivors told UNHCR that five men and two women aboard the boat perished during the week-long voyage from Libya. The boat came ashore at Riviera Bay on Saturday and the emergency services were alerted by families enjoying a beach party. This is the fourth such boat to have arrived this year, bringing in total some 220 people. A further 45 boats have arrived in Italy," said Edwards.
UNHCR's regional office in Italy reports these latest deaths raise to 81 the number of reported or confirmed dead among people trying to reach Europe from Libya this year.
Edwards said it is not clear why people are still continuing to put their lives at risk by fleeing from Libya. He said the exhausted survivors of the latest boat are still in bad shape. He said more information, no doubt, will emerge once they have recovered from their ordeal.
"We are not aware of any distress calls from this particular boat. There were just over 80 people on board. It was a small vessel," said Edwards. "In many cases, what we are seeing over the last year is that these vessels leaving North Africa really have no qualified crew or navigators on board, so that they are more or less left to their own devices to cross this stretch of water."
Edwards said the Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest stretches of water in the world for asylum seekers, refugees, and people in mixed migration flows. He noted that an estimated 1,500 people last year were reported missing or dead while crossing the sea.