Tunisia recovers 16 migrants’ bodies after dozens drowned off coast

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Tunisia’s Coast Guard recovered on Saturday the bodies of 16 African migrants who drowned when their boat carrying more than 80 people sank after setting off for Europe from neighboring Libya, the Tunisian Red Crescent said.

Tunisian fishermen rescued four people but one later died in hospital, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday. The others on the overcrowded boat were feared drowned.

At least 65 migrants heading for Europe from Libya drowned last May when their boat capsized off Tunisia.

Libya’s west coast is a main departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe, though numbers have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan Coast Guard.

Although the fighting in Libya has made the situation more difficult for people-smugglers, international aid officials have warned it could also prompt more Libyans to flee their country.

Libyans who are picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard are routinely brought back to Libya and detained. The United Nations has pleaded with Libya’s government to free the detainees, some of whom have been locked up for years.

In May, 108 migrants and refugees were sent to the Tajoura detention center near Tripoli, which was hit by air strikes on Tuesday night that killed at least 53 people.

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