Over 60 people drown in migrant boat off Libya on way to Europe

Migrants from Eritrea, Libya and Sudan sail a wooden boat before being assisted by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, in the Mediterranean sea, about 30 miles north of Libya, Saturday, June 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)
File picture of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean sea. Credit: AP

More than 60 people have died after a boat carrying dozens of migrants heading towards Europe capsized off the coast of Libya, the United Nation's migration agency said.

The UN's International Organization for Migration said in a statement the boat was carrying 86 migrants when strong waves swamped it off the town of Zuwara on Libya’s western coast.

It said that 61 migrants, including women and children, had drowned, citing survivors of the “dramatic shipwreck”. “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. Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

The North African nation has plunged into chaos following a Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The country is a major launching point for migrants trying to reach the European shores through the deadly central Mediterranean.

More than 2,250 people died on this route this year, according to Flavio Di Giacomo, an IOM spokesperson.

It’s “a dramatic figure which demonstrates that unfortunately not enough is being done to save lives at sea,” Di Giacomo wrote on X. Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders, which it shares with six nations.

The migrants are crowded into ill-equipped vessels, including rubber boats, and set off on risky sea voyages.

Those who are intercepted and returned to Libya are held in government-run detention centers rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture — practices that amount to crimes against humanity, according to UN-commissioned investigators. The abuse often accompanies attempts to extort money from the families of those held, before the imprisoned migrants are allowed to leave Libya on traffickers’ boats to Europe.

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