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At least 43 migrants die in shipwreck off Libyan coast

At least 43 migrants die in shipwreck off Libyan coast
International Organiztion of Migration staff assisting survivors of Tuesday's shipwreck off Zwara. Photo courtesy of International Organization of Migration Libya 2021

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- At least 43 migrants died Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast when their boat capsized in rough seas, the first tragedy of migrants leaving the country this year.

The boat left the coastal city of Zawya but tipped over when the engine stopped, leaving it at the mercy of the inclement weather, the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, said in a statement.

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All those who died were thought to be from Western African countries. The 10 survivors from the shipwreck were from Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia, the organizations said.

The survivors were taken by Coastal Security to Zwara. They were given food and water along with medical screenings before being released.

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"Hundreds of people lost their lives last year attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean, where the highest number of fatalities along a single migration journey worldwide occurred," the organizations said.

"IOM and UNHCR fear that, due to the limited ability to monitor routes, the actual number of people who perished in the Central Mediterranean during 2020 could be much higher. This loss of life highlights once more the need for re-activation of state-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources," the organization said.

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The IOM and UNHCR called on the international community to end returning migrants to "unsafe ports," establishing a safe location to disembark and for solidarity from European states in receiving arrivals.

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"The situation for migrants and refugees in Libya remains extremely precarious," the organizations said. "Arbitrary arrests and arbitrary detention in the direst of conditions continue. Many are victimized and exploited by traffickers and smugglers, held for ransom, tortured, and abused."

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