Bodies of 22 migrants and refugees retrieved off Libya’s coast

Last week, some 45 refugees and migrants died in the worst shipwreck this year off Libya’s coast.

ocean viking mediterranean migrants rescue
Since 2014, more than 20,000 refugees and migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa. [File: Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

The Libyan Red Crescent has retrieved the bodies of 22 refugees and migrants off the coastal town of Zwara on Sunday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, likely to be from a shipwreck that took place last week.

On Wednesday, the IOM and the UN refugee agency said at least 45 refugees and migrants, including five children, died in the worst shipwreck reported so far this year off Libya’s coast.

Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the IOM in Geneva, told AFP news agency on Sunday it was possible the 22 bodies were from that same sinking, “given the reported location of the shipwreck”.

“The bodies retrieved today were all African males. We still don’t have information on the nationalities,” she added.

On Sunday, AlarmPhone, an activist network alerting authorities of boats in distress in the Mediterranean, reported that three more shipwrecks took place in the central Mediterranean between August 17 and August 20.

“After days spent collecting testimonies from survivors, speaking to relatives of the missing people and cross-checking, we can now confirm at least four shipwrecks took place in the central Mediterranean between 17 and 20 August,” it said.

“Several bodies have washed ashore the Mediterranean coast since.” 

At least 497 refugees and migrants are known to have perished on the route so far this year, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants project. Authorities stress that the actual figure was likely much higher.

Libya acts as a major gateway for Africans hoping to reach Europe.

There are more than 636,000 refugees and migrants currently in Libya, according to IOM. Fighting in the country endangers them as they wait to cross the sea in hope of reaching Europe, across one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. 

Since 2014, more than 20,000 refugees and migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa. 

In addition to the casualty figures are the ones forcibly returned from Europe, especially to Libya, described as “hell” by those who survived the ordeal on their transit.

Since February 2017, at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to the North African country, UN figures show.

An Associated Press investigation revealed the European Union sent more than 327.9 million euros ($373.8m) to Libya, largely channelled through UN agencies.

The EU has also reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($100m) in funding and training the Libyan coastguard to stop the crossings.

“The Europeans let people drown and take them to Libya, because it is easy for them,” Alarmphone quoted one of the survivors as saying.

“I can’t believe what happened to us. We drowned and there was fire everywhere. Nobody came. Some ship could’ve saved us. But no one came. We’re still alive thanks to the fishermen who saved us.”

Additional reporting by Faras Ghani

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies