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A boat packed with mainly African migrants bound for Italy sank off the Libyan coast on Thursday and officials said up to 200 might have died.

A security official in the western town of Zuwara, from where the overcrowded 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.

By late in the evening, the Libyan coast guard rescued around 201, of which 147 were brought to a detention facility for illegal migrants in Sabratha, west of Tripoli.

The migrants on board had been from sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh.

Zuwara, Libya’s most western town located near the Tunisian border, is a major launchpad for smugglers shipping migrants to Italy.

Libya has turned into a transit route for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to make it to Europe. Cross-border smuggler networks exploit the country’s lawlessness and chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.

People-smugglers have taken advantage of the chaos gripping Libya since the 2011 uprising to step up their lucrative business.

Libya has turned into a transit route for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to make it to Europe. Cross-border smuggler networks exploit the country’s lawlessness and chaos to bring Syrians into Libya via Egypt or nationals of sub-Saharan countries via Niger, Sudan and Chad.

But the crossing to Europe is treacherous, and more than 2,300 people have died this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat, compared with 3,279 during the whole of last year.

Libya has been struggling to cope with an influx of migrants, putting them in overcrowded makeshift detention facilities such as schools or military barracks where they live in poor conditions lacking medical care.

The North African country used to deport migrants it caught but with fighting between armed groups having cut off land border crossings to Niger, Algeria and Chad many stay months or years in detention facilities.

Tags : Angela MerkelEuropeEuropean UnionIllegal immigrationInternational Organization for MigrationLibyaNorth AfricaSabrathaSub-Saharan AfricaZuwara
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