As Libya spirals deeper into turmoil — an armed group stormed its national oil corporation headquarters on Monday, following weeks of unrest — migrants and refugees keep setting sail from its restive shores to Europe.
And the dangerous trip in unsafe vessels has been claiming their lives at an alarming clip.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that more than 100 people, including families and children, had died so far in September off the coast of Libya alone (others continue to drown on other Mediterranean routes).
According to Doctors Without Borders (known by their French acronym, MSF), two crowded rubber boats sank on Sept. 1.
One boat deflated while the other’s engine failed, according to survivors — most of whom hailed from Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Libya, Algeria and Egypt — who were found clinging to wreckage.
Over 100 people reportedly died after a shipwreck off the #Libyan coast one week ago.
— MSF International (@MSF) September 11, 2018
“On our boat, only 55 people survived. Many people died, including families and children. They could have been saved if rescuers had come earlier,” one survivor told MSF.
A European rescue aircraft flew over the survivors and tossed down some life rafts, but, according to survivors, they remained in the water for hours after that. Several of them had horrendous petrol burns — some on up to 75 percent of their bodies.
Ultimately, the Libyan coastguard took the survivors back to the port of Khoms on Sept. 2, where they were transferred — pregnant women, babies, and all — to one of the many migrant detention centers run by Libyan authorities.
“Many of the survivors are mourning the loss of their relatives,” said MSF. “Instead of receiving the support they need, refugees and migrants are arrested and detained in deplorable living conditions, without basic safeguards or legal recourse.”
These migrant detention centers are being operated at the behest and with the support of European partners — under a deal that has Libya hold on to migrants in order to keep the number entering the European Union low.
And the strategy has largely worked for the EU, but at a horrendous human cost for the migrants and refugees seeking safety and security in Europe: They are vulnerable to the slave markets now flourishing Libya and, according to the latest UN figures, they are drowning or disappearing at sea at an increased rate.
Of the 1,600 people who have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean, 1,100 had set sail from North Africa — mostly from Libya.