74 Migrants Wash Up On Libyan Shore

The drowning comes after Italy agreed to pay Libya $236 million to stem the flow of migrants

A crowded dinghy rescued off the Libyan coast in September — REUTERS
Feb 21, 2017 at 7:06 AM ET

At least 74 migrants washed up on the Libyan shore after their boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the Libyan Red Crescent tweeted Tuesday morning.

Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, the UN Migration Agency, said their vessel departed from the western city of Sabratha on Saturday with 110 people aboard. The Red Crescent’s spokesman Mohammad al-Misrati told the Associated Press that a torn rubber boat was found nearby and that he expected more bodies to surface since the boats typically carry up to 120 people.

The Libyan Red Crescent tweeted photos of recovered bodies in black and white body bags on the beach in the northwestern Libyan coastal city of Zawiya. It said that the circumstances surrounding the drowning remained unclear and that the bodies would be buried at a cemetery in Tripoli for unidentified people.

Since the 2011 Libyan revolution that toppled Muammar el-Qaddafi and spurred nationwide lawlessness and militia violence, the UN-backed government in Tripoli has struggled to gain control of the country. Amid the tumult, Libya has grown as a smuggling hub for migrants and refugees seeking access to Italy and the rest of the European Union.

According the EU border agency Frontex, there were more than 181,000 illegal border crossings in 2016 on the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy.

In an attempt to curb the flow, Italy signed a deal on February 3 requiring Libya to detain the mostly African migrants seeking to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. In return, Italy will pay €220 million ($236 million) to the Libyan coast guard and provide training to help them stop the rubber dinghies that are departing from their shores.

Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri last week said that despite such agreements, the EU should not expect a drop in the number of migrants and refugees making their way through Libya en route to Europe.

“We have to be ready to face the same number,” he said. He criticized as unsustainable Europe’s efforts to reduce the number of people who pay smugglers for a spot in a flimsy dinghy boat headed for Europe.

“I hope 2017 will see the start of a shift, a positive impact of alternative measures… But these are measures that need time,” he said.