More than 90 people have presumably died over the weekend in the Mediterranean Sea in one of the worst shipwrecks involving migrants in recent years, the United Nations said. According to medical charity MSF, four survivors were rescued by a commercial vessel.
The four survivors of the shipwreck told MSF they had been on board a boat carrying nearly 100 people for at least four days. According to news agency AFP, the group had set off from Libya and was trying to reach Europe.
Their overcrowded vessel had capsized and sunk in international waters, AFP reported. According to MSF, a commercial tanker, the Alegria 1, rescued four people from a life raft early Saturday morning (April 2).
"Around 96 people died in the water," the crew of the tanker said according to a transcript of the logbook of exchanges between the tanker and MSF, AFP reported.
Reacting to the news, UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi tweeted Sunday (April 3) that "more than 90 people have died in another Mediterranean tragedy."
"Europe has proven its ability to host 4 million refugees from Ukraine generously and effectively," he added. "It must now urgently consider how to apply this to other refugees and migrants knocking, in distress, at its doors."
'Urgent need of protection'
Doctors without Borders, which goes by its French acronym MSF, stressed that those rescued on Saturday "are in need of urgent protection and care." "None of the survivors should be returned to a place where they face detention, abuse and ill-treatment. Libya is not a place of safety," it said on Twitter.
According to UN migration agency IOM, Libya's coast guard has intercepted and returned more than 3,000 migrants so far this year, the vast majority of them men. Last year, more than 32,000 migrants were returned. Once back in Libya, they are typically subjected to systemic abuse and ill-treatment at government-run detention centers.
The European Union has been repeatedly criticized for its close cooperation, funding and training of Libya's coast guard with the stated goal of preventing migrants from making it to Europe.
From northern Africa to Europe
In recent years, Libya has become a key departure point for African and Asian migrants seeking to reach Europe.
Human traffickers, benefiting from the decade of conflict and lawlessness in Libya, smuggle in migrants across the country's lengthy borders with six other northern African countries. The migrants are then packed into overcrowded and unseaworthy rubber boats that frequently sink or encounter difficulties on the high seas.
The main destination of migrants trying to reach European territory by boat from Libya and neighboring Tunisia is Italy. Arrivals to the EU member state have surged since revolts in Libya and Tunisia toppled their respective leaders in 2011, with a record 181,000 people arriving in Italy in 2016. Last year, more than 67,000 people arrived in Italy by sea, according to UNHCR data.
Rights groups have called the Central Mediterranean the world's deadliest migration route. The IOM's Missing Migrants Project estimates that more than 1,500 people drowned in the Central Mediterranean in 2021 while trying to reach European shores. The real number is likely a lot higher.