Up to 90 migrants, mostly Pakistanis, are feared to have drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Libya on Friday, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Ten bodies have washed up on the Libyan coast including eight Pakistanis and two Libyans, and there are three survivors, a spokesperson for the IOM, Olivia Headon, told the media in Geneva, on a conference call. « Two of the survivors swam to the coast, » while the third was « rescued by a fisherman, » she said.
Despite a steep fall-off in the number of migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean towards European shores over the past year, the North African country remains an important gateway for people making the journey.
In August last year the EU reached an agreement with the Libyan government to provide training and assistance to the Libyan coastguard to help them turn back more migrant boats in the hope that it would dissuade emigrants from attempting to make the journey.
While this did dramatically reduce the number of people reaching Europe, the policy has been criticised by human rights groups, for increasing the number of people languishing in overcrowded detention facilities in Libya.
In November an undercover CNN report caused a global outcry when it revealed that African migrants were being sold at auction in modern-day slave markets, adding to the criticism of the EU’s policy of sending boats back to Libya.
In 2017, more than 3,000 Pakistanis arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, according to the IOM. This year, the figures for Pakistanis are currently higher, with about 240 arriving in Italy in January against only 9 in January 2017.
Last year, more than 3,100 migrants died or disappeared trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, including more than 2,800 off Libya, according to IOM figures.