"Horrifying" report of hundreds of migrants missing off coast of Libya

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Medics carry a young man on a stretcher off the Italian Coastguard vessel Gregoretti when it reached Palermo in Sicily earlier this week after rescuing people from the Mediterranean. © UNHCR/F.Malavolta

Reports that hundreds of migrants are missing off the coast of Libya are "horrifying", according to a top UN crime prevention official.

The UN Refugee Agency said the incident involves the capsizing of a boat on Monday in waters about 120 kilometres south of Italy’s Lampedusa Island.

Stephanie Coutrix reports.

Media reports indicated on Wednesday that the Italian coast guard had rescued over 140 people but hundreds more migrants remain at sea as a search operation continues.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said the smuggling of migrants exploits people seeking better lives and provides criminal networks with enormous profits.

He spoke at the 13th Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice which is addressing how to improve the rule of law.

"400 migrants in one day died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya, it's just one day episode. At the same time someone on the other side of the Mediterranean may have cashed another 1.5 million dollars in their bank account. That's a crime that needs to be addressed. We need to protect the rights of migrants, we need to support them, we need to protect women, and especially children including unaccompanied children."

Mr Fedotov stressed the need to confront the criminals and break up their networks by strengthening cooperation among nations, inter-governmental organizations and civil society.

He said UNODC is playing its role through a targeted strategy to address migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that last year, some 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean, and at least 3,500 lives were lost.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’25″

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