Around 20 migrants died as they tried to reach Europe by boat, according to some 85 survivors rescued Thursday by a Maltese patrol boat while drifting in rough seas off the Mediterranean island.migrants

A government spokesman said to dpa that the migrants had told rescuers that they had dumped the victims’ bodies out at sea, a claim which was not yet verified.

The survivors, believed to be from sub-Saharan Africa, claimed to have been out at sea for “days.” Their point of departure was not yet known.

Before they were disembarked, the asylum seekers were subjected to lengthy health checks, including for potential Ebola cases.

Along with Italy, Malta is a key entry point for people fleeing from North Africa and the Middle East. Thursday’s were the first migrant landings for 2015.

An Italian coastguard vessel picked up a separate boat carrying around 70 migrants off the coast of Libya on Thursday.



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