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Ten dead and hundreds missing after Europe-bound boats sink off Libya’s coast

At least ten people have died after their Europe-bound boats sank off Libya’s coast and some 100 people are missing, coastguard officials and aid groups said on Saturday.

Eight bodies were found on an inflatable craft that can carry up to 120 passengers, said Colonel Fathi al-Rayani, head of the coastguard in Garabulli, 60 kilometres (40 miles) east of Tripoli.

He estimated that “at least 100” people were missing.

The boat was spotted deflated off Garabulli, and the coastguard found the bodies inside, said an AFP reporter who accompanied them.

The Italian coastguard meanwhile said it had coordinated the rescue of 1,650 people off the Libyan coast, with aid groups involved in the operations saying two dead bodies were found on a dinghy.

Conflict-ravaged Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

The UN refugee agency has said around 61,250 people have reached Italy since the start of the year after crossing the Mediterranean, while nearly 1,800 more are dead or missing.

The Italian coastguard has said that more than 900 people were rescued off Libya on Thursday and Friday.

Libyan navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem meanwhile told AFP that coastguards patrolling off Zawiya, west of Tripoli, on Friday intercepted five inflatables and two wooden boats with more than 570 on board.

He said the boats were being escorted by five Libyans on a jet ski and two outboards, and that three of the men were apprehended.

“The migrants are Africans, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Moroccans… and were delivered to the detention centre in Zawiya,” Qassem said.

Intercepted or rescued refugees are often held in detention centres before being repatriated.

People traffickers have exploited the chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising deposed and killed strongman Moammer Gaddafi to boost their lucrative but deadly trade.

Thousands have perished in recent years attempting the crossing.

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