The UN refugee agency UNHCR has called for immediate action after two boats shipwrecked Thursday off Libya and 150 migrants are feared to have drowned. Search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean must be resumed and arbitrary detention stopped, the UN says.
Up to 150 Europe-bound migrants, including women and children, were missing and feared drowned on Thursday after two boats they were travelling on capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, the country’s coast guard and the UN refugee agency said. The UN has called it the largest shipwreck and the “worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year.
According to AP media reports, 84 of the rescued migrants were transferred to the Tajoura detention centre near Tripoli on Friday. The centre had been bombed in an airstrike earlier this month, killing more than 50 migrants. The centre is located near the front lines of fighting between rival Libyan fractions.
The UN High Commissioner of the UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration IOM, Antonio Vitorino, as well as Unicef Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore have echoed the urgent call to restore search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean and to stop arbitrary detention in Libya.
The European Union in a statement said that Thursday’s incidents are “a terrible reminder” of the risks taken by migrants on their way to Europe. “Every life lost is one too many”. The EU added that “predictable solutions are urgently needed,” dpa reports.
Ten other boats detected
Meanwhile, the rescue organization Sea-Watch in a statement said that their reconnaissance aircraft had detected around 10 other boats Thursday night. According to UNHCR Libya, Libya’s coast guard had intercepted three boats with around 200 migrants and returned them to Tripoli, Al-Khums and Zuwara on Friday.
Sea-Watch warned that the risk of drowning does not keep migrants from embarking on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Spokesperson Oliver Kulikowski said: “The people are fleeing because they cannot stand staying in Libya.”
Charlie Yaxley, UNHCR spokesperson for Africa and the Mediterranean, sent out a video message from Geneva to appeal for a shift in approach to migration via the Mediterranean and for the release of people from detention in Libya.
“This tragedy has to now lead to action. It comes just weeks after we saw more than 50 people lose their life after an airstrike hit Tajoura detention centre. We must now see a change in approach to the situation in Libya and the Mediterranean that has, at its core, saving lives as a priority. We must see more search and rescue boats operating on the Mediterranean as well as the immediate release of people from these detention centres in Libya and for states to help us evacuate refugees out of Libya to safety,” Yaxley said in a statement
147 people were rescued by local fisherman and Libya’s coast guard, according to Yaxley, and returned to Libya. One body that was recovered was also brought back to Libya.