Home WorldMiddle East At Least 74 Drown in Wreck Off Libya, U.N. Agency Says

At Least 74 Drown in Wreck Off Libya, U.N. Agency Says

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At least 74 people drowned on Thursday when a rubber raft carrying migrants sank off the coast of Libya, the latest in a series of disasters in the world’s deadliest sea crossing, according to a United Nations agency.

The motorized raft, crowded with more than 120 people, had left Khoms, Libya, on Wednesday, according to the agency, the International Organization for Migration. But the craft, which was ill equipped for the journey across the Mediterranean Sea, capsized on Thursday, it said.

Fishermen and the Libyan Coast Guard rescued 47 people and recovered 31 bodies, including the remains of at least one child, the agency said.

The wreck was just the latest to kill migrants on the notoriously dangerous journey from North Africa to Europe, across the Mediterranean.

At least eight other vessels carrying migrants have sunk in the central Mediterranean since Oct. 1. And at least 900 people have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe this year, some because of delayed rescue missions, the agency said.

More than 11,000 others rescued or intercepted at sea have been returned to Libya, putting them at risk of human rights abuses, including detention, abuse, trafficking and exploitation, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In the past two days alone, at least 19 people, including two children, have drowned after two boats capsized in the central Mediterranean, while Open Arms — the only ship operating in the area that is run by a nongovernmental organization — has rescued more than 200 people in three operations, the agency said.

“The mounting loss of life in the Mediterranean is a manifestation of the inability of states to take decisive action to redeploy much needed, dedicated search-and-rescue capacity in the deadliest sea crossing in the world,” Federico Soda, the organization’s chief of mission in Libya, said in a statement.

“We have long called for a change in the evidently unworkable approach to Libya and the Mediterranean, including ending returns to the country and establishing a clear disembarkation mechanism followed by solidarity from other states,” Mr. Soda said. “Thousands of vulnerable people continue to pay the price for inaction both at sea and on land.”

The disaster came weeks after at least 140 migrants drowned when their boat sank off Senegal in the deadliest wreck this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

That boat had left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal, with about 200 migrants, bound for the Canary Islands. But it caught fire a few hours later and capsized in the Atlantic Ocean near St.-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast, the agency said.

The Senegalese and Spanish Navies, as well as nearby fishermen, rescued 59 people and recovered the remains of 20 others, according to the International Organization for Migration, which cited news reports.

Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the group in Geneva, said that the migrants who drowned on Thursday were mainly from Nigeria, Gambia and Burkina Faso and that the survivors were obviously distressed and traumatized.

The raft, she said, was most likely headed for Malta or Italy, with people fleeing extortion, torture and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment in Libya, which descended into chaos in 2011 after the ouster and killing of the longtime dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Since then, Libya has been divided between two administrations, in the east and west of the country, backed by rival foreign powers.

Last month, the two warring factions agreed to a cease-fire, raising hopes for an end to years of bloody conflict that have drawn in military forces from Russia, Turkey and other regional powers.

Libya is home to an estimated 700,000 to one million migrants, mainly from Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria and Mali, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Many went to Libya to work but have been forced by exploitation and harassment to attempt the deadly journey to Europe across the Mediterranean.

“That just goes to show how desperate people are looking for solutions in a country like Libya, which doesn’t have anywhere near a legitimate internal state,” said Katharine M. Donato, director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“This has gotten to be just a horrible situation,” she said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic might only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis, causing many migrants to flee.

“I think we’re going to see a winter filled with these sorts of stories,” Professor Donato said. “People now, in the next few months, are likely to take risks that are even more frightening and bigger than they have been willing to take in the last 10 months.”

Ms. Msehli said it was critical to dismantle systems of abuse and detention in Libya and to provide safeguards for migrants who are vulnerable to exploitation.

“We continue to see desperate people and continue to see children, women, mothers and fathers dying on this well-known route, which remains the most dangerous in the world,” she said. “We need urgent action to address this loss of life and this continual carnage at sea.”

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