Nearly 100 asylum seekers have been reported missing following the sinking of their inflatable boat off the Libyan coastline.
The boat sinking occurred off the Libyan capital of Tripoli’s western suburb of Gargaresh on Thursday, said Libya’s coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem. He said 23 refugees had been rescued but 97 others, among them women and children, had gone missing.
“What happened is that the base of the boat got wrecked and the boat sank,” Qassem said.
Libya remains a major gateway for asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 450,000 people having made the crossing over the past three years.
So far this year, of an estimated 26,886 refugees who have crossed into Italy, more than 600 are known to have drowned at sea.
Human smugglers place most of the refugees in flimsy inflatable dinghies that get picked up by rescue ships and other vessels after they reach international waters. Some, however, are intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and turned back. Others sink.
- UN: Refugees traded in Libya ‘slave markets’
- 4 refugee smugglers killed in clashes off western Libya coast
Earlier this week, the United Nations raised concerns about the increasing number of African refugees passing through Libya and being traded in slave markets.
According to the Libyan mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), refugees are typically traded for as little as 200 to 500 dollars and are held for an average of two to three months.
“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse, and even murder,” Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM’s director of operations and emergencies, said. “We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”