Migrant drownings in the Mediterranean surpass 1,000 this year - IOM

The International Organisation for Migration says that some 204 migrants died at sea off Libya over the weekend pushing the 2018 death toll above 1,000

Rescued migrants being treated by IOM staff in Tripoli (Photo: IOM)
Rescued migrants being treated by IOM staff in Tripoli (Photo: IOM)

The sea claimed the lives of 204 migrants just off Libya this weekend, making 2018 the fourth consecutive year that the death toll in the Mediterranean has risen above 1,000, the IOM said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a small rubber boat packed with people capsized off AlKhums, east of Tripoli, with an estimated 41 people being rescued on Sunday.

On Friday, three babies were among the 103, who died in another shipwreck as smugglers continue to take migrants to sea in completely unsafe vessels.

The IOM said the Libyan coast guard has so far, this year, returned some 10,000 people to shore from small vessels.

The organisation is involved in assisting migrants in Libya, including the provision of food, water and medical checks upon disembarkation.

IOM is also in the process of providing psychosocial aid at Tajoura detention centre where the survivors have been transferred.

William Lacy Swing, IOM director general, will be traveling to Tripoli this week to see first hand the conditions of migrants who have been rescued as well as those returned to shore by the Libya Coast Guard.

“IOM is determined to ensure that the human rights of all migrants are respected as together we all make efforts to stop the people smuggling trade, which is so exploitative of migrants,” Swing said.

The tragic weekend came on the back of a decision by Malta and Italy to close their ports to migrant rescue ships run by non-governmental organisations.

The decision was backed by the European Council last week, which called on all ships in the Mediterranean not to hinder the work of the Libyan coast guard.

The Council’s conclusion came hot on the heels of a weeklong ordeal for 234 migrants who were left stranded on the Lifeline, a rescue ship run by a German organisation, after Malta and Italy refused it entry.

The Lifeline was eventually allowed into Malta after some other EU member states accepted to take in the migrants. The ship has been impounded in Malta and the captain is expected to be arraigned in court on Monday morning, over what is being described as an irregular ship registration and disobeying orders on the high seas.

The IOM expressed concern at the “alarming increase” in deaths at sea off Libya’s coast.

IOM Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi said smugglers were exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe.

“Migrants returned by the coast guard should not automatically be transferred to detention and we are deeply concerned that the detention centres will yet again be overcrowded and that living conditions will deteriorate with the recent influx of migrants,” Belbeisi added.

READ ALSO: Nine migrants land in Marsaskala on Malta's south east coast

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