CAIRO (AP) — More than 160 migrants drowned in two separate shipwrecks off Libya over past week, a United Nations migration official said Tuesday. The fatalities were the latest disasters in the Mediterranean Sea involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, said at least 102 migrants were reported dead after their wooden boat capsized off Libya on Friday. At least eight others were rescued and returned to shore, she said.
The second shipwreck took place Saturday. The Libyan coast guard retrieved at least 62 bodies of migrants, Msehli said. The same day, the coast guard intercepted a third wooden boat with at least 210 migrants on board, she said.
The new deaths have brought the tally in the central Mediterranean route to around 1,500 migrants drowned this year, Msehli said.
Recent months have seen a surge in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya as authorities accelerated their deadly crackdown on migrants in the capital of Tripoli.
Around 31,500 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya in 2021, compared to nearly 11,900 migrants the previous year, according to the IOM. Around 980 migrants were dead or presumed dead in 2020, the U.N. agency said.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation and smuggled migrants through the country’s lengthy border with six nations. They pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages through the perilous Mediterranean Sea.
Those returned have been taken to detention centers rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture. The abuse often accompanies efforts to extort money from families before migrants are allowed to leave Libya on traffickers’ boats.
U.N.-commissioned investigators said in October that abuse and ill treatment of migrants in Libya could amount to crimes against humanity.