More than sixty individuals, including women and children, lost their lives when a boat transporting dozens of migrants towards Europe collapsed on Libya’s coast, according to the United Nations migration agency.
This area of the Mediterranean Sea is a vital but perilous passage for migrants attempting to reach Europe, and the shipwreck that occurred overnight on Thursday and Friday was the most recent tragedy to occur there. In the eyes of the authorities, thousands have perished.
In a statement released late Saturday, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration confirmed that 61 migrants perished when their boat was overwhelmed by powerful waves near the Libyan town of Zuwara on the western coast. The boat was carrying 86 passengers.
“The central Mediterranean continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes,” the agency wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
A plane from the European Union’s border agency found the half deflated rubber boat Thursday night in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya, according to a statement released on Sunday by the agency.
“The people were in severe danger because of adverse weather conditions, with waves reaching heights of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet),” the agency, known as Frontex, said.
A tweet from Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants, reported that some of the passengers contacted the volunteer organization, which then notified the proper authorities, including the Libyan coastguard, “who stated that they would not search for them.”
The Libyan coast guard did not immediately have a representative available for comment.
Despite the North African nation’s descent into anarchy following a NATO-backed revolt that deposed and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has since been the primary transit route for migrants escaping poverty and violence in Africa and the Middle East.
Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reported that over 2,250 died on the central European route this year.
It’s “a dramatic figure which demonstrates that unfortunately not enough is being done to save lives at sea,” Di Giacomo wrote on X.
Some 1,248 migrants went missing off the coast of Libya between January 1 and November 18, with 940 confirmed dead, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.
Approximately 14,900 migrants, including over 1,000 women and over 530 children, were apprehended and deported to Libya this year, according to the migration tracking initiative.
The initiative documented 529 deaths and 848 missing persons off the coast of Libya in 2022. The intercepted individuals were returned to Libya in excess of 24,600.
The instability in Libya has been a boon to human traffickers in recent years, who have used the country’s long borders—shared with six countries—to smuggle in migrants. The refugees are packed onto overcrowded boats, some of which are made of rubber, and sent on perilous journeys across the ocean.
United Nations investigators found that detention camps controlled by the Libyan government were a breeding ground for human rights violations such as torture, forced labor, rape, and physical assault.
As a precondition for releasing the migrants from captivity to board the boats bound for Europe, traffickers frequently resort to abusive tactics in an effort to extract money from the families of the detained individuals.