Ten survivors were brought back to Libya after the deaths of at least 43 migrants and refugees on Tuesday, UN bodies report.
At least 43 migrants and refugees were killed in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya, said the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the first tragic event of 2021 in the central Mediterranean where more than 17,000 have drowned since 2014.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, IOM and UNHCR said the boat left the town of Zawiya in the early hours of Tuesday and allegedly sank due to bad weather hours later.
The statement added that 10 survivors – mainly from Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia – were brought ashore by the Libyan authorities.
Libya is a major gateway for African migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe. The conflict in the country pushes people towards the sea.
The Central Mediterranean route is described by UNHCR as the most dangerous migration route in the world – one in six people who leave the coasts of North Africa die.
Libyan-based smugglers launch ships, many of them fragile rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats, filled with migrants hoping to reach European shores to seek asylum.
Some flee conflict or persecution, while many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have been rescued at sea in recent years flee poverty.
In addition to the casualty figures, there are those who have been forcibly returned to Libya, which is described as “hell” by those who survived the ordeal in transit.
‼ ️ Today, 48 migrants, including 11 children, have been intercepted and returned #Libya by the coast guard.
Urgent action is needed to end returns to Libya, put in place a safe and predictable disembarkation mechanism, and redeploy state search and rescue operations. pic.twitter.com/wO6mbMQ78N
– Safa Msehli (@msehlisafa) January 20, 2021
Since February 2017, at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and returned to this North African country, according to UN figures.
The EU has reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($ 100 million) to finance and train the Libyan coast guard to stop the crossings.
A Associated Press Inquiry revealed that the EU had sent more than 327.9 million euros ($ 373.8 million) to Libya, much of it channeled through UN agencies.
EU countries like Italy and Malta have often refused permission to moor to humanitarian rescue boats.
According to data from the Italian Interior Ministry, there has been an increase in the number of people trying to reach Italy with at least 31,000 refugee arrivals in 2020, up from nearly 10,000 in the same period last year.