The search for victims of a devastating shipwreck that claimed the lives of at least 74 migrants on Thursday off the coast of Khums, Libya, is still continuing.
This is the latest in a series of tragedies involving at least eight other shipwrecks in the Central Mediterranean since October 1.
The boat was reported to be carrying over 120 people, among them women and children. Forty-seven survivors have been brought to shore by the coast guard and fishermen and 31 bodies have been retrieved.
In the past three days at least 19 people, including two children drowned after two boats capsized in the Central Mediterranean, while the vessel Open Arms – the only NGO ship currently operating on this route – rescued more than 200 people in three operations.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, says “the mounting loss of life in the Mediterranean is a manifestation of the inability of States to take decisive action to redeploy much needed, dedicated Search and Rescue capacity in the deadliest sea-crossing in the world.
“We have long called for a change in the evidently unworkable approach to Libya and the Mediterranean, including ending returns to the country and establishing a clear disembarkation mechanism followed by solidarity from other states. Thousands of vulnerable people continue to pay the price for inaction both at sea and on land.”
So far this year, at least 900 people have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach European shores, some due to delays in rescue.
More than 11,000 others have been returned to Libya, putting them at risk of facing human rights violations, detention, abuse, trafficking and exploitation, as documented by the United Nations.
The UN migration agency has recorded a recent upsurge in departures from the country with some 1,900 people intercepted and returned and over 780 arrivals in Italy from Libya since the beginning of October alone.
Worsening humanitarian conditions of migrants detained in overcrowded centres, widespread arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, and extortion and abuse are alarming.
In the absence of any safeguards for migrants returned to the country, the Libyan Search and Rescue zone must be redefined to allow international actors to conduct life-saving operations.
IOM maintains that Libya is not a safe port for return and reiterates its call on the international community and the European Union to take urgent and concrete action to end the cycle of return and exploitation.
Continuous restrictions on the work of NGOs conducting crucial rescue operations work must be lifted immediately and their crucial interventions recognized in line with the humanitarian imperative of saving lives.