Egypt migrant boat capsize: At least 42 people killed

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Migrants from north Africa at Trapani harbour, Southern Italy (20 August 2016)

At least 42 people have drowned after a migrant boat capsized off the Egyptian coast, officials say.

The boat was carrying about 600 passengers, of which about 150 have been rescued, state media reported.

The capsize took place off the coast of Kafr al-Sheikh, officials say.

Wednesday’s incident comes after the head of the EU’s border agency warned that increasing numbers of Europe-bound migrants are using Egypt as a departure point.

Health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said the number of bodies recovered had reached 42 after officials earlier told Reuters that the bodies of 20 men, 10 women and one child had been retrieved.

Sudanese and “other African nationalities” are among the dead, AFP news agency reports.

It is not clear where the planned final destination was, although officials said the boat was probably heading for Italy.

Human rights researchers last month warned of a “devastating” lack of information for families of migrants thought to have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Refugees from Eritrea (June 2016)

They say more than 6,600 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 and the first half of this year.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in July also released figures suggesting that 2016 could become the worst year to date for migrant deaths.

It said that about 3,000 migrants and refugees lost their lives so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

But a report by UK academics warned that most bodies remain unidentifiedand their families are left not knowing if missing relatives are dead or alive.

The EU border agency Frontex in August said that more than 12,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Egypt between January and September, compared to 7,000 over the same period in 2015.

It says that Egypt is the “new hotspot” for people smugglers, with concerns that its population of about 80 million people may pose a major problem should it descend into chaos.

Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri said that work was being done to determine whether there was a link between the drop in numbers departing from Turkey – where only about 50 people a day try to make the journey to reach Greece compared to thousands this time last year – and the increase in numbers from Egypt.

The [Egyptian] route is growing,” Mr Leggeri said. “The crossing is extremely dangerous [and can often] take longer than 10 days.”

Other aid agencies have also warned about an increase in numbers from Egypt, especially after a migrant swap deal was agreed between the EU and Turkey in March.

“If you think that you have had a migrant crisis up until now, that will be a game changer,” said Catherine Woollard, secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a Brussels-based network of NGOs.

Ms Woollard said that some conflict and crisis experts are looking “at Egypt in terms of potential collapse”.

The Egypt office of the IOM say high birth rates and few job opportunities are pushing young Egyptians into taking the risk.

However officials say Libya still remains the biggest departure point with flows at around the same level this year as last year.

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