As many as 57 migrants were presumed to be dead after a boat carrying them capsized off Libya’s coast on Monday, reported AP, citing a migration official of the United Nations.
Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, said that the vessel had left Libya’s western coastal town of Khums on Sunday. She added that there were at least 75 migrants on board, but 18 of them were rescued and returned to the shore by fishermen and Libya’s coast guard.
Among the 57 who were presumed dead, there were at least 20 women and two children.
The survivors, who are reportedly citizens of Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia, said that the boat had stopped on its way due to a problem with its engine, and then capsized amid bad weather.
This was the second sea disaster in less than a week off the Libyan coast that involved Europe-bound migrants. On July 21, as many as 20 migrants had reportedly drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, while 500 were intercepted and taken back to Libya, according to Al-Jazeera.
Humanitarian crisis in Libya
In the first few months of 2021, the European Union-backed Libyan coast guard intercepted almost 15,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, according to Al-Jazeera. More than 7,000 people intercepted at sea were forcefully returned to detention camps in Libya, Amnesty International has said.
In recent years, Libya has emerged as a dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and West Asia. Chaos had erupted in the country in 2011 after a revolt toppled the dictatorial administration of Muammar Gaddafi.
Rights groups and officials at United Nations’ agencies have often highlighted survivor testimonies about systematic abuse in the detention camps in Libya, including forced labour, beatings, rapes and torture.
Since 2015, millions of refugees have crossed over from conflict-stricken countries into Europe, sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Many of them travel in flimsy dinghies or unsafe fishing boats.