Thousands of refugees have drowned in Mediterranean waters after embarking on perilous journeys on unseaworthy vessels | Photo: C. Marquardt / picture-alliance /dpa / NurPhoto
Thousands of refugees have drowned in Mediterranean waters after embarking on perilous journeys on unseaworthy vessels | Photo: C. Marquardt / picture-alliance /dpa / NurPhoto

For migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya towards Europe on Tuesday, November 10, it was literally a matter of life and death. News agencies reported that 13 people drowned off the Libyan coast, and on a different boat 88 people were rescued and transferred to the humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms.

For at least 13 migrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean towards Europe, Tuesday November 10 resulted in tragedy. According to the German protestant news agency epd, they were on board a rubber dinghy that capsized off the Libyan coast. The shipwreck resulted in at least 13 dying by drowning.

According to UN migration agency (IOM) spokesperson for the Mediterranean, Flavio Di Giacomo, at least three women and one child were among the dead.

Survivors 'brought back' to Libya

Di Giacomo said that 11 people survived the accident and were "brought back to Libya." In a separate tweet, Di Giacomo added that in 2020 alone, according to IOM figures, "over 10,300 migrants have been intercepted at sea and sent back to dangerous Libya."

The IOM spokesperson reminded his followers on Twitter that this was "still happening," despite repeated calls by international bodies like the UN and humanitarian organizations to designate Libya an unsafe place.

The organization Doctors without Borders (MSF) tweeted about the drownings too, asking the EU if they were "watching?" It added that international bodies should "step up with search and rescue capacity, or let us save lives."

'Over 200 people at risk of drowning'

Earlier on Tuesday, emergency hotline Alarm Phone tweeted that according to their information there were "over 200 people at risk of drowning" in the Mediterranean on the same day the 13 people actually did drown.

They gave their positions as 110 people in the Maltese search and rescue (SAR) zone, 20 people in international waters and a further 80 people, also in international waters. The second two boats were recorded on Tuesday around lunchtime as being not too far off the Libyan coast, northwest of Tripoli.

Alarm Phone said it had "informed the authorities." Later on Tuesday, the organization said that 110 people who had called Alarm Phone on Monday evening had "arrived in Lampedusa this morning." They added soon after that "80+ people [had been] reached and rescued" by the Spanish humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms.

Migrants taken to quarantine ferry

The founder of Open Arms, Oscar Camps, tweeted a picture with a caption from what looked like a nighttime transfer of "88 people" to the Open Arms vessel. He said these 88 had also been "in danger of shipwreck." Camps added that the people were in a "precarious state of health, but safe on board."

The news agency epd reported that the Open Arms rescue took place "just a few miles" from where the other boat had capsized and was also in international waters. It added that because of the current spate of good weather in the Mediterranean, more and more boats were setting off from the north African coast in the hope of reaching Europe via Lampedusa or Malta.

The news agency further said that the arrivals meant that the hotspots on Lampedusa were once again "over full" and that 300 of the new arrivals had been taken to a quarantine ferry off shore. About 750 are currently on board the ferry, of which "80 had tested positive for the coronavirus," according to epd.

575 deaths in central Med

The news agency Associated Press (AP) said that this shipwreck was "at least the fourth migrant shipwreck off the coast of Libya involving fatalities since the beginning of October."

IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said that the group had left the western town of Zuwara on Monday night. The 11 survivors who were returned to shore told IOM personnel, according to AP, that "water had started to leak into the rubber dinghy after being underway for five hours."

According to IOM figures, since the beginning of October at least 30 migrants have drowned in this way, whilst trying to reach Italy. The overall migrant death toll in the central Mediterranean since the beginning of 2020 stands at 575. IOM thinks that even more people have actually died, but have not been counted because they vanished without a trace.

Towards the end of October, MSF denounced the blocks put on most of the humanitarian search and rescue ships in the central Mediterranean. The Sea-Watch 4, which MSF helps operate, was detained by Italian authorities in the middle of September. In October, the Alan Kurdi and the Louise Michel were also detained.

Open Arms: 'Mission 78'

Open Arms announced it was setting sail from the port of Barcelona on November 4 to being "mission 78". At lunchtime on Wednesday (November 11), news agency ANSA published a story saying the organization was in the middle of rescuing a further 100 people, "including several women and children."

The boat they had been on, the organization said, was "rickety and had collapsed and tipped them into the sea."

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps posted a picture of the rescue on his Twitter page in Spanish.

In it, he wrote: "Breaking news: our team is in the middle of trying to rescue some 100 people from the sea, among them babies and children." The picture he posted shows the remnants of an inflatable dinghy upturned with many people wearing life jackets clinging on to the boat. Several others have drifted a few meters from the boat and also appear to have life jackets on.

With epd, AP


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