About 24 migrants are believed to have drowned after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast in the night from Sunday to Monday, bringing the deaths of migrants who have died in the Mediterranean while trying to get to Europe to about 600.
According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the migrants were trying to cross from Libya to Europe on a rubber dinghy when the boat capsized and they drowned.
Some survivors reported to IOM staff that three boats left from the northwestern Libyan city of Zawiyah near Tripoli around 11 pm on Sunday, September 13.
The following day, Libya’s coast guard reportedly found 45 people on two boats and brought them ashore.
‼️ Over 20 migrants are reported missing at sea after their boat capsized off #Libya last night.
Another 45 people were returned to shore by the coast guard.
— Safa Msehli (@msehlisafa) September 15, 2020
The third boat, however, had presumably capsized, IOM spokesperson, Safa Msehli, said at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
According to Msehli, all migrants were men, with the majority of them from Egypt and Morocco. Survivors of the capsized boat as well as the intercepted migrants from the two intact boats were taken to a detention center in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Msehli said upon request that ‘rubber dinghies deployed by smugglers and traffickers are unseaworthy and put lives at risk. Most migrants make the dangerous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats.’
The IOM reports that hundreds of migrants die each year in the Mediterranean Sea during the attempt to reach Europe from northern Africa. This year, according to IOM, 562 have perished so far, the majority of whom on the central Mediterranean route.
However, Msehli believes the real number could be much higher.
“The absence of a predictable, humane and sustainable approach to the situation in the Mediterranean continues to endanger lives.
The number of fatalities in the Mediterranean, however, has been declining steadily since 2016, when a record 3,268 people lost their lives. Earlier this year, the estimated death toll passed the grim milestone of 20,000 deaths since 2014.”
After 45 Africans died off the Libyan coast last month in the biggest shipwreck this year, both IOM and UN refugee agency UNHCR called for a change in countries’ approach to the situation in the Mediterranean and Libya.
‼️ Since mid-August, when 4 shipwrecks were reported in the Central Med, 48 bodies have washed ashore at Libyan coasts.
According to our estimates, at least 54 other people could have died at sea in those incidents.
Their deaths could and should have been prevented. pic.twitter.com/2DOEHzWoXj
— Missing Migrants Project (@MissingMigrants) September 10, 2020
The two UN agencies as well as rights groups have repeatedly called for ending the practice of intercepting and returning migrants to Libya, saying that many migrants are sent to squalid and overcrowded detention centers that lack adequate food and water.
IOM and UNHCR staff report that the cycle of imprisonment, mistreatment and extortion then begins anew.