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GENEVA / PARIS: An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s boat capsized early on Friday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

The Foreign Office (FO) confirmed the incident and said that up to 11 Pakistanis were among the people who drowned. Its statement contradicted earlier statements by an IOM official who said that most of the dead could be Pakistanis.

FO spokesman Mohammad Faisal said that Pakistani diplomats had reached Libya’s coastal area concerned to collect more details. He said that Pakistani authorities would try to bring back the bodies of the Pakistanis killed in the tragedy.

FO spokesman dispels impression that most of the dead are Pakistanis

Earlier in the day, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon had quoted survivors as claiming that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who made up a growing number of those attempting the hazardous voyage across the Mediterranean to Italy from North Africa. “They have given an estimate of 90 people who drowned during the capsize, but we still need to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy,” Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing.

“What has been reported to us is that it’s mostly Pakistanis who were on board the boat, but we still need to verify the nationalities and how many from what country,” she said.

Ten bodies had washed up on Libyan shores, two of them Libyans and the rest Pakistanis, she said.

“I believe the Libyan coastguard is looking for other survivors off the coast,” she added.

Another IOM spokesman, Leonard Doyle, told a media organisation that the boat was believed to have left shore on Thursday before capsizing early on Friday morning.

The tragedy demonstrates the continued allure of Europe for desperate migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty, Doyle said, despite tighter surveillance of the main smuggling routes by the Libyan coastguard, backed up by European cash and know-how.

“They (the migrants) are lured there by social media. They get onto a phone, they are promised El Dorado, they think life is going to be great. And before they know it, they are getting into the hands of awful criminal, extorting people — smugglers, traffickers, this dreadful, shocking torture,” he said.

Security officials in the western Libyan town of Zuwara said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. They also confirmed the recovery of 10 bodies, mostly Pakistanis, but gave no further information.

Zuwara, located near Libya’s border with Tunisia, was a favoured site for migrant boat departures over the past two years but of late has seen only occasional departures.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2018