More than 100 people, including 20 children, died in early September when their rubber boats were wrecked off the coast of Libya, according to the aid agency Doctors Without Borders. Only two bodies have been recovered thus far. Sertan Sanderson/InfoMigrants reports on the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean.
According to Doctors Without Borders (known by the French initials MSF), hundreds of people set off from Libya in two inflatable boats on September 1, never reaching land. Citing interviews with survivors, one of the two boats soon developed motor problems, while the other began to lose air. Each boat was reportedly carrying 165 adults, with the latter boat believed to have been carrying about 20 children as well.
The Libyan coastguard managed to rescue a total of 276 survivors on September 2 and brought them back to Libya, to the port city of Khoms (120 kilometres east of Tripoli). Survivors told MSF that only few people were wearing life jackets at the time of the incident.
Rescuers slow to respond
“At that time, the mobile satellite phone showed that we were not far from Maltese coast. We called the Italian coastguard and sent our coordinates, asking for assistance as people started to fall in the water. We were told they would send someone. But the boat started sinking. We couldn’t swim and only a few people had life jackets. Those among us who could hold on the boat’s floating hood stayed alive,” a survivor told MSF.
“Many people died, including families and children. They could have been saved if rescuers had come earlier,” the survivor said.
MSF adds that according to survivors of the shipwreck, the nationalities of those on board the boats included Sudanese, Malian, Nigerian, Cameroonian, Ghanaian, Libyan, Algerian and Egyptian. Among the dead were two 17-month-old babies, who a survivor said “perished, along with their mother and father.”
Libya: Africa’s transit point for migrants
The policy of returning attempted migrants back to Libya has come under heavy criticism lately as large parts of the country remain unsafe. Fighting on the streets of Tripoli has picked up pace in recent weeks, as various groups have been competing for control over the oil-rich country since ousting of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. There are also widespread reports of violence against migrants, including instances of rape and slavery, as human smuggling rings continue to cash in on desperate people.
Libya has become a central transit point for migrants who hope to make their way to Europe. But the sea journey from there remains dangerous: there have been more than 1,500 migrant deaths reported between Libya and Italy so far in 2018.