At least 61 refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, have drowned following a “tragic” shipwreck off Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.
The IOM’s Libya office early on Sunday quoted survivors as saying the boat was carrying about 86 people.
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A “large number of migrants” are believed to have died because of high waves, which swamped their vessel after it left from Zuwara, on Libya’s northwest coast, the IOM’s Libya office said in a statement.
Most of the victims were from Nigeria, The Gambia and other African countries, the IOM office said, adding that nearly 25 people were rescued and transferred to a Libyan detention centre.
An IOM team “provided medical support” and the survivors are all in good condition, the organisation said.
Flavio Di Giacomo, an IOM spokesperson, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that more than 2,250 people died this year on the central Mediterranean migrant route, a “dramatic figure which demonstrates that unfortunately not enough is being done to save lives at sea”.
Libya and Tunisia are principal departure points for refugees and asylum seekers risking dangerous sea voyages in hopes of reaching Europe, via Italy.
On June 14 this year, the Adriana, a fishing boat loaded with 750 people en route from Libya to Italy, went down in international waters off southwest Greece.
According to survivors, the ship was carrying mainly Syrians, Pakistanis and Egyptians. Only 104 survived and 82 bodies were recovered.
More than 153,000 refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Italy this year from Tunisia and Libya, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Meanwhile, the high inflow of immigrants and asylum seekers has led to a rise in anti-refugee sentiments in Italy, under far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who won the election last year on the promise to crack down on immigration.
Meloni on Saturday met United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama in Rome to discuss ways of combating undocumented migration to Europe.
Like Meloni, Sunak has also adopted a hardline policy against immigration. His government has clamped down on immigrants and asylum seekers using small boats to cross the English Channel. A plan to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda was declared “unlawful” by the UK’s highest court.
In July, the European Union finalised an agreement with Tunisia, as part of which the bloc will make payments to the North African country to stem irregular migration.
Scores of migrants and refugees are often put into boats that are not big enough to safely move them across the treacherous route. Some of them are escaping conflict or persecution, while others dream of better opportunities in Europe. They land in Italy before trying to make their way to other countries, particularly in Western Europe.
Libya has descended into chaos since 2011, when a NATO-backed revolt toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. The country is now host to an estimated 600,000 migrants and refugees.