From file: Members of the Libyan Red Crescent are seen recovering the bodies of migrants that washed ashore east of Tripoli | Photo: EPA/STRINGER
From file: Members of the Libyan Red Crescent are seen recovering the bodies of migrants that washed ashore east of Tripoli | Photo: EPA/STRINGER

The Red Crescent retrieved on Sunday the bodies of 22 migrants near the Libyan coastal town of Zwara, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. Last week dozens of migrants perished in what was the largest recorded shipwreck off Libya so far this year.

The IOM chief of mission in Libya, Federico Soda, shared a photo on Twitter showing body bags lined up on a beach. "Today, 22 bodies were retrieved by the Libyan Red Crescent in Zwara," he wrote Sunday, August 23.

Last week, the IOM and the UN refugee agency UNHCR in a joint statement said at least 45 migrants had perished off Libya in the deadliest recorded shipwreck so far this year, which had occurred on Monday, August 17.

Some 37 survivors – mainly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana – were rescued by local fishermen and later detained upon disembarkation, the agencies said. According to the survivors, 45 others including five children lost their lives when the vessel’s engine exploded off the coast of Zwara.  

Safa Msehli, spokeswoman for the IOM in Geneva, told news agency AFP on Sunday it was possible the 22 bodies were from that same sinking, "given the reported location of the shipwreck." However, this has not been confirmed yet. "The bodies retrieved today were all African males. We still don't have information on the nationalities," Msehli added.

Deadly route   

IOM and UNHCR said that the shipwreck west of Tripoli brings to at least 302 the number of persons known to have perished on the Libyan route so far this year. However, the UN bodies also stressed that the actual figure was likely much higher.

In a tweet Safa Msehli attributes the loss of life to an "absence of EU-lead search and rescue and increasing restrictions on the work of NGOs." Both IOM and UNHCR have called for a change in countries' approach to the situation in the Mediterranean and Libya. "There is an urgent need to strengthen the current search and rescue capacity to respond to distress calls," they said, adding that the recorded delays in rescue and disembarkation in recent months, as well as a failure to assist, were "unacceptable and put lives at avoidable risk."

State of chaos

Ever since former dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in a NATO-backed insurgency in 2011, the country has been in chaos and Libya has become a key route for irregular migration from Africa into Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly reported on widespread mistreatment of migrants and refugees who transit the country on their journey toward the Mediterranean coast as well as on the mistreatment of those trapped in detention centers.

This year, migrant departures from Libya's coast have nearly tripled between January and the end of April  compared to the same period in 2019, according to the UN. Many of the migrants attempt to make the dangerous crossing in unseaworthy rubber boats -- and thousands are regularly intercepted during the attempt and returned to Libya, according to news agency dpa.

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year and 1,200 have died in the attempt, according to the IOM.


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