Libya accuses UN of bias, denies migrant drowning report

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
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The Libyan navy yesterday accused the U.N. migration agency of bias against the country, denying its report of migrant drownings off the Libyan coast two days earlier. On Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 90 migrants were feared drowned after a boat capsized off the Libyan port city of Zuwarah.

At the time, the agency reported that 10 bodies had washed ashore and there were three survivors: Two Pakistanis and one Libyan.

"The International Organization for Migration should not have been hasty and created media uproar that can distort Libya and its security agencies," Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qasim told dpa. He denied the IOM report, saying the Libyan navy's rescue teams had not found any evidence of the incident.

Qasim accused nongovernmental organizations of making money from the problem of illegal immigration by allegedly pressuring governments in the world to provide aid "from which immigrants receive very little."

In Libya, the turmoil engulfing this North African country has become a death trap for thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking to escape poverty and find a better life in Europe. The vast North African country is home to competing governments and parliaments, with real power held by an array of militias, many of which make money from trafficking and packing hundreds of desperate migrants in unseaworthy boats to make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean.

The massive flood of migrants across the Mediterranean over the past few years prompted the European Union to take measures, including training and equipping Libya's coast guard to stop boats attempting the dangerous sea crossing. Such measures brought the number of migrants crossing to Europe down by more than half in 2017, compared to the previous year.

However, rights groups fear that the measures could also leave tens of thousands of migrants stranded in restive Libya. Survivors have recounted starving in Libyan detention centers and other abuses. The high death rate among the migrants is often blamed on small dinghies and poor vessels used by the smugglers, who also appear still willing to brave the choppy winter sea. The OIM estimates that over 171,300 migrants entered Europe in 2017, compared to a little over 363,500 in 2016.

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