Sept. 11 (UPI) -- More than 100 migrants died this month in a shipwreck off the Libyan coast -- the latest episode in Europe's ongoing and much debated migrant crisis, an aid agency said.
Two rubber boats left the Libyan coast on Sept. 1, but one boat deflated and sank, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a report Monday.
Each boat carried more than 160 migrants from Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Libya, Algeria and Egypt when it embarked, a survivor told MSF.
"While the first boat had stopped due to an engine failure, our boat continued to navigate and began deflating around 1 p.m. There were 165 adults and 20 children on board," the survivor said. "The mobile satellite phone showed that we were not far from Maltese coast.
"We called the Italian coast guard and sent our coordinates, asking for assistance as people started to fall in the water."
By the time rescuers arrived a few hours later, the boat had already sunk. People were already in the water who couldn't swim, and there were only a few life jackets.
"Those among us who could hold on the boat's floating hood stayed alive," the survivor said. "On our boat, only 55 people survived. Many people died, including families and children. They could have been saved if rescuers had come earlier.
"Only two bodies were recovered."
The Libyan Coast Guard brought 276 shipwreck survivors -- including pregnant women, children and babies, and people with serious medical conditions and chemical burns -- to the Libyan port city of Khoms, about 62 miles southeast of Tripoli.
The group is now being held in "arbitrary detention" center, according to MSF, which said it treated survivors for pneumonia or burns from leaked fuel.
Refugees from boats that don't hold up are commonly returned to Libya for detention.
Since the beginning of the year, the European Union-supported Libyan Coast Guard has returned at least 13,185 refugees and migrants to Libya.
"We are extremely worried for our patients," Jai Defranciscis, an MSF nurse working in northwest Libya, said. "How can they recover when they are locked inside cells, in very poor hygiene conditions, and sleeping on blankets or mattresses placed on the floor that cause incredible pain for those suffering from severe burns? Some of them cannot even sit or walk . . . We have started to see patients with severe chest infections like pneumonia, caused by being in the water for such a long time."
Reports surfaced last year that sub-Saharan African migrants are being kidnapped for ransom or sold as slaves in the country, and are also among concerns for those the Coast Guard returned to Libya.
Though many more have been rescued, Italy, a primary destination for migrants coming from Libya, has recently started to refuse ships.
Libya has been unstable since Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow in 2011.
Survivors told MSF they decided to leave Tripoli to escape the violent clashes and shelling that began on Aug. 26 in the capital.