Shipwreck claims the lives of at least 43 migrants off the coast of Libya

The UN calls for the resumption of state-led operations in the Mediterranean, as rescue groups’ vessels are detained in port

At least 43 people have been killed after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast, the UN said on Wednesday.

Ten people survived the shipwreck, which happened after the boat’s engine failed a few hours after departing the coastal city Zawiya, west of the capital Tripoli, on Tuesday morning.

A joint statement by the UN’s migration and refugee agencies said it was the first shipwreck involving migrants in the central Mediterranean this year. Hundreds died in similar incidents in 2020.

A spokesperson for Alarm Phone, which communicates with migrants and refugees in distress at sea, said the incident was a result of European border policy.

“We have a huge rescue gap because most of the rescue vessels are under administrative detention or under some kind of investigation in Europe so most can’t go out to sea,” they said.

They said the only rescue NGO currently able to operate was SOS Méditerranée, and it faces challenges in reaching migrants.

In a separate incident on Wednesday the NGO said it was unable to rescue 48 people stranded on another inflatable boat before the Libyan coastguard returned them to Libya. The interception, criticised for returning the migrants to dangerous environments, was observed by an aircraft operated by rescue group Sea-Watch, whose own rescue ships are unable to go to sea.

SOS Méditerranée’s Ocean Viking was only able to return to sea on 11 January, six months after it had been detained by Italian authorities.

Currently six NGO ships are unable to operate, Alarm Phone said.

In April last year Italy declared its ports “unsafe” for arrival due to the Covid-19 outbreak and said it would not accept migrants.

The UN said attitudes needed to change on migrants from the Mediterranean, including an end to the policy of returning them to unsafe countries.

“This loss of life highlights once more the need for reactivation of state-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources,” the statement said.

The EU has been accused by rights groups of condemning refugees and migrants to death in the Mediterranean through its border policies and by supporting Libyan militias to intercept and return boats to the coast.

The EU border agency Frontex was accused in October of being involved in illegal pushbacks to sea by member states. In November it announced it would launch a committee to evaluate its surveillance on the Mediterranean.


Kaamil Ahmed

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
EU support for Libya contributes to 'extreme abuse' of refugees, says study
Human Rights Watch accuses EU institutions of sustaining network of ‘inhuman and degrading’ migrant detention centres

Peter Beaumont

21, Jan, 2019 @5:30 AM

Article image
EU claims of success in curbing Niger migrants greeted with scepticism
MEPs question EU figures suggesting dramatic fall in migration from Niger as International Organisation for Migration highlights limited scope of data

Arthur Neslen in Brussels

15, Dec, 2016 @12:47 PM

Article image
EU accused of abandoning migrants to the sea with shift to drone surveillance
Border agency Frontex accused by campaigners and MEPs of evading its responsibilities towards people in distress

Kaamil Ahmed

28, Oct, 2020 @12:53 PM

Article image
German report details Libya abuses amid pressure to stem migrant flows
Embassy in Niger verifies reports of rights abuses including executions in camps as Italy demands action to halt crossings

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

30, Jan, 2017 @9:05 AM

Article image
‘Cruel’ trafficker accused of torturing refugees found guilty in Ethiopia
Tewelde Goitom reportedly ran a brutal and lucrative trade extorting migrants desperate to reach Europe from Libya

By Kaleab Girma and Sally Hayden in Ethiopia

30, Apr, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Exclusive: 12 die as Malta uses private ships to push migrants back to Libya
Survivor reveals further evidence to Guardian and La Repubblica of Malta’s deadly strategy to intercept migrants crossings

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

19, May, 2020 @5:10 AM

Article image
‘Horrific’: 10 people suffocate in overcrowded migrant boat off Libya
MSF rescue 99 survivors who spent 13 hours on vessel trying to reach Europe as authorities accused of ignoring distress call

Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

18, Nov, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Fear and despair engulf refugees in Libya's 'market of human beings'
Long the target of reported abuses, refugees in Libya now claim they are being recruited by militias – a potential war crime

Sally Hayden

15, Apr, 2019 @10:43 AM

Article image
‘Life-saving’: hundreds of refugees to be evacuated from Libya to Rwanda
First group expected to leave dire detention centres in days, as UN denies reports that plan is part of EU strategy to keep refugees from Europe

Karen McVeigh

10, Sep, 2019 @3:04 PM

Article image
Senior Libyan coastguard commander arrested for alleged human trafficking
Abd al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija, is suspected of being behind the drowning of dozens of refugees

Lorenzo Tondo

16, Oct, 2020 @9:18 AM