April 16, 2024

73 migrants presumed dead after inflatable rubber vessel wrecks near Libya

An inflatable rubber boat carrying migrants wrecked off the coast of Libya and 73 people were missing and presumed dead, the U.N. migration agency said Wednesday. It was the latest tragedy involving migrants seeking better lives in Europe.

The U.N. International Organization for Migration said in a statement that the disaster took place Tuesday and that Libya authorities had retrieved 11 bodies.

It said the boat, packed with around 80 migrants, reportedly departed from the village of Qasr al-Akhyar, 50 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. The migrants were heading to European shores, it said.

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The dead included one woman and 10 men, said Safa Msehli, IOM’s spokesperson.

It was not immediately clear what happened to the vessel but images showed the deflated broken-up rubber boat on shore.

Seven migrants, all men, survived the mishap and made it to Libyan shores, the U.N. said, and were in “extremely dire conditions.” They were taken to a hospital.

Qasr al-Akhyar officials shared footage online showing Libya’s Red Crescent workers handling dead bodies that washed ashore. The footage also showed the broken-up inflatable rubber boat.

A survivor said in a different video shared by the municipality that scores of migrants were killed in the shipwreck. He said they paid between $3,000 to $5,000 each to smugglers to make the ill-fated trip.

In video comments, Salem Awag, the top Qasr al-Akhyar official, called on authorities in Tripoli to step up support to the village to help guard the shore and prevent further crossings.

Tuesday’s shipwreck was the latest tragedy in the central Mediterranean Sea, a key route for migrants. The death toll on that route has reached at least 130 migrants this year, IOM said.

In 2022, more than 1,450 migrants died, according to the IOM’s missing migrants project.

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“This situation is intolerable,” said Safa Msehli, the organization’s spokesperson. She called on governments to increase search and rescue efforts and to “establish clear and safe disembarkation mechanisms as well as safe and regular pathways to migration.

Off Libya’s shores alone, at least 529 migrants were reported dead and 848 others missing last year, while over 24,680 were intercepted and returned to the country, according to the IOM.

Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to make it to Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in war-torn Libya, smuggling in migrants across the desert country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then typically packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and set off on risky sea voyages.

European countries have in recent years pushed Libyan authorities and the coast guard to detain and intercept migrants attempting to cross to European shores.

Many of those who have been intercepted and returned to Libya β€” including women and children β€” are held in government-run detention centers where they suffer from abuse, including torture, rape and extortion, according to rights groups.

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