UN agencies call for ‘urgent action’ after 45 migrants died off Libya coast


At least 45 migrants and refugees have died off the coast of Libya after the engine of vessel they were travelling on exploded. Five children are said to be among the deceased, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency reported.

The incident in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Zwara, which occurred on Monday, is the deadliest recorded shipwreck of the year so far according to the agency.

About 37 people, predominantly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana, are reported to have survived after being rescued by local fisherman and have since been detainedupon disembarkation.

The two UN agencies are calling for a review of States’ approach to the situation after this latest incident in the Mediterranean, adding that there is an urgent need to strengthen the current search and rescue capacity there to respond to distress calls.

IOM and UNHCR said there remains a continued absence of any dedicated, EU-led search and rescue programme in the area and they fear that without an urgent increase in capacity, there is a risk of another disaster similar to incidents that saw large loss of life.

NGO vessels have played a crucial role in saving lives at sea amid a sharp reduction in European state-led efforts. The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be impeded and legal and logistical restrictions on their work must quickly be lifted.

IOM and UNHCR are deeply concerned by recent delays in rescue and disembarkation as they urge states to swiftly respond to these incidents and systematically provide a predictable port of safety to people rescued at sea.

At least 302 migrants and refugees perished on this route so far this year. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project and UNHCR, the current estimated number of fatalities is likely much higher.

IOM and UNHCR recognize the continued challenges presented by sea arrivals and welcome the efforts of Mediterranean coastal States to continue receiving rescued refugees and migrants.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of European countries have found ways to manage their borders effectively while allowing access to their territories for people seeking asylum.

Over 17,000 people have arrived in Italy and Malta this year by boat from Libya and Tunisia, a threefold increase compared to 2019.

However, the number has drastically decreased compared to years prior to 2019 and is manageable with political will and EU solidarity with European coastal States.

The instability and lack of security in Libya enables smugglers, traffickers, and criminals in general to act with impunity as they prey on vulnerable migrants and refugees.

IOM and UNHCR call on Libyan authorities to take firm steps against smugglers and traffickers. This should include disrupting and ending smuggling rings led by criminal groups to prevent further exploitation and abuse. The international community should assist these efforts and provide more support to the authorities in their fight against human trafficking networks. (Source: IOM)