At least 45 migrants, including five children, have died after their vessel exploded off the coast of Zwara – the largest shipwreck off the Libyan coast this year.
Local fishermen rescued some 37 survivors, mostly hailing from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana who were later detained upon disembarkation, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
“There remains a continued absence of any dedicated, EU-led search and rescue programme”, the organisations warned, reiterating the need to move beyond ad hoc arrangements to address the migration crisis.
“We urge states to swiftly respond to these incidents and systematically provide a predictable port of safety to people rescued at sea. Delays recorded in recent months, and failure to assist, are unacceptable and put lives at avoidable risk.”
At least 302 migrants and refugees lost their lives on Libya-Europe route so far this year, but the current estimated figures of fatalities are likely much higher.
Meanwhile, over 17,000 people have arrived in Italy and Malta this year by boat from Libya and Tunisia, triple the number of arrivals in 2019.
In Malta, 1,699 people were rescued at sea in the first six months of 2020.
UNHCR and IOM also flagged instability in Libya and called on the North African state to disrupt smuggling rings led by criminal groups to prevent further exploitation and abuse of migrants attempting the perilous journey to Europe.
Malta’s dubious deal with the Libyan coastguard means that some migrants are returned to Libya despite reaching its search and rescue zone, and are often met with torture and exploitation once they return.
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