Following another deadly shipwreck off the coast of Libya that claimed 43 lives on Monday, the UN migration and refugee agencies have called for countries to re-activate search and rescue operations.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the two agencies expressed their sadness at the tragic event, the first of 2021 in the Central Mediterranean.
The boat reportedly capsized due to bad sea conditions when its engine stopped, just a few hours after embarking from the Libyan city of Zawra early on Tuesday morning. The 10 survivors, mainly from Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, and The Gambia, reported that those who perished were all men of West African origin.
The survivors received emergency assistance, including food, water and medical screenings from IOM and International Rescue Committee staff.
Rescue operations in the Mediterranean have been significantly scaled back in recent years, and several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have reportedly blamed the European Union and Member States for the increased deaths in the region.
IOM and UNHCR reiterated their call on the international community for an urgent and measurable shift in the approach to the situation in the Mediterranean. This includes ending returns to unsafe ports, establishing a safe and predictable disembarkation mechanism followed by a tangible show of solidarity from European states with countries receiving high numbers of arrivals.
Migrants in Libya at high risk
The situation for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya remains extremely high risk.
Hundreds are known to have lost their lives in 2020, and IOM and UNHCR fear that due to the limited ability to monitor routes, the actual number of deaths in the Central Mediterranean during 2020, could be much higher.
Before they attempt a crossing, migrants also face many threats within Libya, including arbitrary arrests and detention in the direst of conditions. Many have been victimized and exploited by traffickers and smugglers, held for ransom, tortured, and abused, and dozens have been killed as a result of conflict in the country.
The migration and refugee agencies acknowledged the efforts made by the Libyan authorities to combat smuggling and trafficking and appealed for an increase in efforts to prosecute and hold accountable criminal groups responsible for human rights' abuses of thousands of migrants and refugees in the country.
However, if inaction and impunity prevail, they warned, more avoidable and tragic loss of life can be expected.