Austria, Libya Count Dead as Number of Migrants Crossing Mediterranean Soars

Karin Strohecker and Ahmed Elumami, Reuters, August 28, 2015

Austria said on Friday 71 refugees including a baby girl were found dead in an abandoned freezer truck, while Libya recovered the bodies of 82 migrants washed ashore after their overcrowded boat sank on its way to Europe and scores more were feared dead.

The U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe had passed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014.

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The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 2,500 people have died making the sea crossing this year, compared with 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014.

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A security official in the western Libyan town of Zuwara, from where the doomed migrant boat had set off, said there had been around 400 people on board. Many appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized on Thursday.

“About 100 people are still missing,” said Ibrahim al-Attoushi, a Red Crescent official, and 198 had been rescued.

The migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, the security official said.

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The Italian coast guard said 1,430 people had been rescued in operations off Libya on Thursday, and a merchant ship sent to the aid of a small boat carrying 125 people recovered two bodies.

In Greece, coast guards said they had rescued more than 1,600 migrants making their way to Greek islands near Turkey over the past three days.

Police in Sicily detained 10 people on suspicion of multiple homicide and aiding illegal immigration after 52 migrants were found dead in the hull of a boat this week.

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In Hungary, police said 10 Syrian migrants were injured on Friday when a van driven by a Romanian suspected of human trafficking overturned en route for Budapest.

The UNHCR said that in one incident on Thursday, 51 people suffocated in the hold of a boat and survivors said they had been beaten to force them into the hold and then had to pay money to smugglers just to come out to breathe.

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Last week, 49 people died in another boat’s hold after inhaling poisonous fumes, and on Wednesday 21 people are thought to have died after a dinghy with 145 on board got into difficulty, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.

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