The bodies of 15 people were found on a beach near the city of Sabratha in Libya on Friday, most of them burned inside a charred boat. The UN mission in Libya has condemned the killing and accused migrant smugglers.
The Libyan Red Crescent and the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said 11 bodies were found inside a docked boat on Friday (October 7) with a further four bodies outside. All were deceased.
The Red Crescent tweeted that the bodies had been recovered with the help of local authorities.
Call for independent investigation
On Sunday UNSMIL issued a statement condemning what it described as a "heinous killing" of the 15 victims which had "reportedly result(ed) from armed clashes between rival traffickers."
Adding that the circumstances of the incident were not yet clear, UNSMIL urged Libyan authorities to ensure a "swift, independent and transparent investigation to bring all perpetrators to justice."
"This is a stark reminder of the lack of protection migrants and asylum seekers face in Libya, and the widespread human rights violations," the statement said.
Jose Sabadell, the European Union's ambassador to Libya, "strongly condemn(ed)" the killing in a series of tweets: "We are also deeply saddened for the tragic loss of human life. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families," he wrote.
Reports of survivors, arrests
A Libyan NGO, The International Organization for Cooperation and Emergency Aid, also reported that the 15 migrants had been killed by people smugglers who shot them and then set fire to their vessel. The organization posted a disturbing picture, widely shared on social media, of what appeared to be the charred remains of bodies inside a boat on a beach.
Witnesses told another NGO, UK-based Libyan Crimes Watch, that the migrants had been shot while on board the boat, following a dispute between two gangs of smugglers on Thursday evening, October 6.
A report in the Libya Observer on Sunday (October 9) said five Ethiopians believed to have information about the crime had been arrested, according to a spokesperson for Libya’s interior ministry, Abdel Moneim Al-Arabi.
Al-Arabi also said that six Bangladeshi migrants had survived the incident and received medical treatment, the Libya Observer reported.
Human rights violations
People smugglers from Sabratha, who play a key role in facilitating migrant boats to the Italian Island of Lampedusa, about 300 kilometers away, have often been accused of abuse and mistreatment of migrants.
Libya authorities are also accused of turning a blind eye to smugglers who commit abuses. In a tweet on October 7, a group calling itself Refugees in Libya said: "The Libyan authorities knows all these smuggling networks yet when they harm people and the society, they go unpunished and are protected by the state."
The group said sub-Saharan Africans, Arabs and South Asians were among the deceased.
Many of those who leave Libyan shores are intercepted and returned to Libya, where they are detained in inhumane conditions and are subjected to torture, rape and extortion. So far in 2022, 16,733 migrants have been reported as rescued or intercepted by Libyan authorities, according to a UN update published on October 4.
Refugees in Libya has called for the closure of all migrant detention centers in Libya – which they say are fully funded by EU and Italian authorities – and a halt to funding of the Libyan coast guard "who have constantly and forcibly intercepted refugees fleeing the Libyan hell and brought them to Libya where all atrocities befall them."
The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa provides millions in funding for border management programs in Libya. This includes funding for the Libyan coast guard and navy, and the provision of training as well as material support such as boats and satellite equipment.
The European Commission has stated that border management in Libya remains a priority in particular to save lives at sea.
But UN organizations UNHCR and IOM continue to reiterate that no one should be returned to Libya after being rescued at sea, since under international maritime law, rescued individuals should be returned to a place of safety.
The Mediterranean crossing still ranks as the world’s deadliest migration route. In the Central Mediterranean 1,149 missing migrants have been recorded this year alone, according to the United Nations migration agency, IOM. The vast majority of deaths recorded as said to be a result of drowning.
With AFP, Reuters, AP