Migrants on a boat of the coast of Libya Migrants on a boat of the coast of Libya 

UN: Migrants die in deadly shipwreck off Libyan coast

The United Nations says at least 45 migrants and refugees have died in the deadliest shipwreck off Libya this year.

By Nathan Morley

In the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean, around 45 illegal immigrants – including children -  died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya.

UNHCR said the victims were among more than 80 people on board the vessel which ran into trouble off the coast of Zwara.

The last few months have seen an up-tick in Mediterranean crossings due to the warm weather and calm seas.

The survivors of the wreck came from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana.

Federico Soda, chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mission, said it was the largest recorded shipwreck off Libya this year.

“There remains an absence of any dedicated, EU-led search and rescue programme,” Soda lamented on social media.

The situation has also been highlighted by activists that complain about the lack of independent rescue ships in the central Mediterranean, one of the world’s most treacherous passages.

Because of the state of insecurity and chaos, Libya has become a preferred point of departure for thousands of illegal immigrants.

The Libya route is also notorious for its barbarity. Desperate migrants fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East often pass through the country on their way to Europe, where they set-off in cheap inflatable dinghies or boats, which are often un-seaworthy.

According to IOM, more than 7,000 illegal immigrants have been rescued and returned to Libya so far this year.

To make matters worse, immigrant shelters in Libya have been overcrowded with migrants despite repeated international calls to close them.

In a statement, the UNHCR and IOM said: "There is an urgent need to strengthen the current search and rescue capacity to respond to distress calls.”

Last month, Malta's military rescued 95 migrants in distress on a dinghy off Libya and ferried them ashore near Valletta. Their terrifying ordeal finally came to an end, 33-hours after a distress call had been issued.

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20 August 2020, 12:31