At least 16 migrants feared dead in shipwreck off Libya: IOM

Three bodies recovered and 13 missing; 22 survivors returned to detention camp in Libya, UN agency reports.

Ninety-four refugees and migrants, including four pregnant women, have been rescued by charity ship Ocean Viking 42 nautical miles off the coast off Libya. November 19, 2019 [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]
More than 620 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe from Africa’s shores this year [File: Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

Three people have died and 13 are feared drowned after a boat carrying refugees and migrants capsized off Libya’s coast on Thursday night, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which added there were 22 survivors.

The dead include two Syrians and one man from Ghana.

The survivors – from Egypt, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia, Syria and Ghana – were rescued by fishing vessels in coordination with the Libyan coastguard and later transferred to the Zliten detention centre, according to IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli.

The Libyan coastguard said the death toll could rise as search teams scoured the area for more bodies.


This is the second shipwreck in one month. The IOM had reported 20 people’s death after their boat capsized off Libya’s coast on September 15.

Libya acts as a major gateway for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe.

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

More than 620 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe from Africa’s shores this year – a dangerous sea journey that has killed at least 20,000 since 2014, according to data gathered by the IOM.

“It is horrible that the loss of life is normalised and even ignored as no action has been taken,” Msehli told Al Jazeera.

“We have consistently said that there is a need for dedicated state-led search-and-rescue capacity to save lives and respond to distress cases. In the absence of EU vessels, NGOs are filling an important gap yet continue to face restrictions.”

Since 2017, European countries, particularly Italy, have funded and delegated most search-and-rescue responsibility to the Libyan coastguard despite allegations of human trafficking and corruption.

At least 36,000 people have been intercepted and returned to the war-torn North African country, where they endure harrowing conditions and well-documented human rights violations in official and “unofficial” detention centres.

Those who survived Friday’s disaster were taken to the Tripoli port, where they received medical care for their burns, a common consequence of leaked engine fuel mixing with saltwater, according to Msehli.

Libya is split between the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) controlling the capital, Tripoli, and the northwest, while renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar controls the east.

Libyan authorities took the survivors of the latest shipwreck to the Zliten detention centre, run by the GNA’s interior ministry.

In a report on Thursday, Amnesty International said thousands of people have been forcibly disappeared from unofficial militia-run detention centres and called on the European Union to reconsider its cooperation with Libya over “horrific abuses” being committed against refugees and migrants in the North African country.

“Instead of being protected, they are met with a catalogue of appalling human rights abuses,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Even in 2020, the EU and its member states continue to implement policies trapping tens of thousands of men, women and children in a vicious cycle of abuse.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies