From file: A shipwreck that took place in the Strait of Sicily | Photo: ANSA/Italian Navy
From file: A shipwreck that took place in the Strait of Sicily | Photo: ANSA/Italian Navy

Yet another boat carrying African migrants has capsized off Libya's coast. This time, at least 57 people are presumed dead, the UN migration agency said. More than 1,100 people have perished in the Mediterranean so far this year.

A boat carrying African migrants capsized off Libya's coast on Monday (July 26). At least 57 are feared to have died, while 18 people survived, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"According to survivors brought to shore by fishermen and the coast guard, at least 20 women and two children were among those who drowned," IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli wrote on Twitter. Survivors are from Nigeria, Ghana and The Gambia, Msehli told InfoMigrants.

According to the IOM, the ship sank off the Libyan port of Khoms, situated some 100 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli. "Yet another tragedy highlights the immediate need for State-led SaR capacity in this dangerous route," the IOM said on Twitter.

The news agency AFP reported that "it was not immediately clear what caused the boat to sink." Usually, migrant boats departing Libyan or Tunisian coasts for Europe are severely overloaded and set off at night -- even during rough weather -- to avoid being detected by the coast guard.

Over the past decade, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country of some seven million people plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Last October, a truce signed by rival groups set in motion a UN-led process that saw a new transitional government installed.

The Libyan coastal city of Khoms is situated around 100 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli | Source: Google Maps
The Libyan coastal city of Khoms is situated around 100 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli | Source: Google Maps

Uptick in arrivals, deaths, returns

Thousands of migrants have arrived by boat in Italy this year. According to the latest data from the Italian interior ministry, the number currently stands at nearly 27,500 people, more than twice as many as at the same point in time in the pandemic year 2020 and almost eight times as many as at the same point in time in 2019.

"Despite an increase in arrivals in Europe, there is no crisis of numbers," IOM's Msehli told InfoMigrants. "The real crisis is the tragic death toll and the lack of any concrete action to address an ongoing humanitarian tragedy."

Indeed, the death toll has been on the rise this year: According to the IOM, the number of people who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean nearly doubled in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Most die in the central Mediterranean, at present one of the most dangerous migration paths in the world.

According to the IOM, at least 1,113 people have perished between January 1 and July 26 this year, close to three times as many as during the same period in 2020. The deadliest shipwreck so far this year took place April 22 off Libya, when 130 people drowned despite the ship sending multiple distress calls.

In regards to returns, Libya's coast guard has intercepted and brought back to Libya more than 18,000 people thus far this year including nearly 1,200 women and 637 minors, according to the latest IOM figures. Last year, 12,000 people were intercepted and returned.

Libya's EU-funded and trained coast guard has been the bloc's preferred partner to prevent migrants from reaching European soil for years, a practice EU has repeatedly come under fire from aid groups for.

The members of the loosely organized force have been accused of consisting of former militia and cooperating with human traffickers, among other things. Earlier this month, Italian lawmakers approved renewed funding to train Libya's coast guard, just one day after the release of a report outlining the violence that migrants intercepted and returned by the coast guard face in Libyan detention centers.

With Reuters, AP, AFP

 

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