A boat carrying refugees and migrants bound for Europe has capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya’s coast, leaving at least two dozen people dead or missing, the UN migration agency said.
Safa Msehli, spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told The Associated Press news agency Libya’s coastguard intercepted three boats on Monday, and one of them had capsized.
She said the coastguard retrieved two bodies, and survivors reported 22 others as missing.
At least 45 survivors were returned to Libya – all of them male, with a majority from Egypt and Morocco – and taken to a detention centre in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Msehli said.
“This new tragedy signals yet again the need for increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. Instead, we are seeing restrictions on NGOs and long, unnecessary stand-offs,” Msehli said.
The shipwreck was the latest maritime disaster involving refugees seeking a better life in Europe.
More than 560 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.
In August, a boat carrying dozens of refugees and migrants capsized leaving at least 45 people missing, marking the largest number of deaths in a single shipwreck off the coast of the North African country.
The IOM reported that since mid-August, when four shipwrecks were reported in the central Mediterranean, 48 bodies have washed ashore at Libyan coasts. It said at least 54 other people may have died at sea in those tragedies.
Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab refugees fleeing war and poverty and heading to Europe.
Most make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. The IOM said in March its estimated death toll among refugees who tried to cross the Mediterranean passed the “grim milestone” of 20,000 deaths since 2014.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the coastguard and other Libyan forces to stop the flow of refugees and thousands have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya.
Rights groups say those efforts have left refugees at the mercy of brutal armed groups or confined in squalid and overcrowded detention centres that lack adequate food and water.
The EU agreed earlier this year to end an anti-migrant smuggler operation involving only surveillance aircraft and instead deploy military ships to concentrate on upholding a widely flouted UN arms embargo that’s considered key to winding down Libya’s relentless war.