At least 160 migrants have drowned off Libya’s coast over the past week in two separate shipwreck incidents, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
The fatalities were the latest in a string of disasters in the Mediterranean Sea involving refugees seeking a better life in Europe.
Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the IOM, said at least 102 were reported dead after their wooden boat capsized on Friday and at least eight others were rescued and returned to shore.
The second shipwreck took place on Saturday. The Libyan coastguard retrieved at least 62 bodies, Msehli said. The same day, the coastguard intercepted a third wooden boat with at least 210 refugees on board, she added.
The deaths bring the total number of people drowned this year on the central Mediterranean route to about 1,500, Msehli said.
In recent months, crossings and attempted crossings from Libya surged as authorities accelerated their deadly crackdown on refugees in the capital, Tripoli.
About 31,500 people were intercepted and returned to Libya in 2021, compared with nearly 11,900 the previous year, according to the IOM. About 980 refugees were dead or presumed dead in 2020, the UN agency said.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country was plunged into chaos after a Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed its longtime autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation and smuggled refugees through the country’s lengthy border with six other nations. They pack desperate people into ill-equipped rubber boats, then embark on risky voyages across the perilous Mediterranean Sea.
Those returned have been taken to detention centres rife with abuses including forced labour, beatings, rape and torture. The abuse often accompanies efforts to extort money from families before they are allowed to leave Libya on traffickers’ boats.
UN-commissioned investigators said in October that abuse and ill treatment of refugees in Libya could amount to crimes against humanity. (Source: The Guardian)