From file: The sun pierces the clouds over international waters north of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo: Picture-alliance
From file: The sun pierces the clouds over international waters north of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo: Picture-alliance

At least 43 migrants died off the coast of Libya in what has been described as the first major shipwreck in the area this year. While ten were rescued, the UN expects more casualties to follow.

According to a UN report, the shipwreck took place at the beginning of the week when a boat capsized a few hours after departing from the western Libyan city of Zawya, as its engine stopped amid poor sea conditions.

The ten survivors found thus far said that those who perished in the shipwreck were all males from West African countries. The survivors themselves were identified as originating from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia.

The shipwreck was the first of its kind in 2021, however, thousands of people have lost their lives in recent years trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe. Last year alone, hundreds of deaths were recorded on the popular migration route — a number that could in reality even be "much higher" due to the lack of proper monitoring mechanisms in the area, according to the UN

On the basis of these casualty numbers, it is considered the most deadly migration route in the world.

Desperate call for change

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR said they were "deeply saddened" by the tragedy, adding that they expected that the final number of deaths could still increase.

"This loss of life highlights once more the need for re-activation of state-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources," the two UN agencies said in a joint statement.

IOM and UNHCR also reiterated a call on the international community "for an urgent and measurable shift in the approach to the situation in the Mediterranean."

Both agencies added that this would "include ending returns to unsafe ports, establishing a safe and predictable disembarkation mechanism followed by a tangible show of solidarity from European states with countries receiving high numbers of arrivals."

Inhumane conditions

Libya has become a key route for irregular migration to Europe since the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi a decade ago. While many migrants have drowned at sea, thousands have been since intercepted by Libya's coastguard, which is backed by Italy and the EU, and returned to Libya to be held in camps.

There have also been countless reports of instances of arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees within Libya. Reports of rape, torture, forced labor and murder have all emerged from the camps, as well as images smuggled out, where migrants are seen being kept in inhumane conditions day and night.

"The situation for migrants and refugees in Libya remains extremely precarious," the UN said. "Should inaction and impunity prevail, more avoidable and tragic loss of life can be expected."

Read more: Migration to Europe in 2020: The year in pictures

with AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, IOM


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