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Death toll from migrant boat disaster reaches 162

The death toll from a migrant boat which capsized in the Mediterranean Sea near the city of Rashid reached 162 on Friday, according to the Health Ministry, as authorities continue to recover bodies from the water. The boat, which was carrying a potential 600 migrants attempting to cross into Europe, sunk en route to Italy on Wednesday.

The UNHCR reports that so far 150 people have been rescued, and an unknown number remain missing.

Confusion continues about exactly how many individuals were on board when the vessel sank. The state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that there were 600 on board, while eyewitnesses and the UNHCR estimate that the number was closer to 450.

AFP reports that an additional 100 people were confined in a locked fridge located below deck. Unable to escape they remained trapped as the boat sunk. Those who survived said they treaded water for hours before they were rescued, while a number of women and children who were unable to swim drowned.

The passengers hoping to make the crossing are from many different nationalities, including Eritrean, Sudanese and Syrian, as well as 43 Egyptians.

Pictures circulating on social media show chaotic scenes in the Nile Delta town of Rosetta. The deceased could be seen lying in the street with blocks of ice atop them, as authorities continued to pull bodies out of the water late into the afternoon.

On Thursday security forces detained four individuals, said to be crew members, and charged them with human trafficking and manslaughter. Some survivors who were initially detained by police have since been released.

As refugee passages from Turkey to Europe have become more restricted in recent months, Kafr al-Sheikh and Marsa Matrouh have seen an upsurge in the number of people trying to make the dangerous sea crossing by boat. Conflicts in Syria, Libya and Sudan, and a stagnating economy in Egypt continue to drive refugee arrivals to neighboring Mediterranean countries. Earlier this month security forces intercepted 155 people in Kafr al-Sheikh as they attempted to make their way to Italy by boat.

According to estimated figures from the International Organization for Migration, as of May 31, 204,311 migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea this year alone. Of these, 2,443 are estimated to have drowned, or remain unaccounted for.

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