In a span of 48 hours, no fewer than nine boats were discovered on the central Mediterranean route carrying more than 600 migrants. The tenth boat arrived in Lampedusa, Italy on Thursday.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an agency of the United Nations is alarmed by this seeming shocking development in Libya.
This apparent spike in departures from Libya is coming at a time when Tripoli, the capital city, and surrounding areas are witnessing some of the heaviest shelling since the conflict erupted in April.
IOM Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, said “IOM is deeply concerned about the safety of migrants who are vulnerable to clashes, human trafficking and abuse as the security situation further deteriorates.”
Adding, the IOM chief said,“Libya is not a safe port; there is a need for a predictable and safe disembarkation mechanism for migrants fleeing violence and abuse.”
Apparently shaken, the UN agency has renewed its call to the European Union and the African Union, for an urgent shift in approach to the situation in Libya. ‘’Immediate action must be taken to dismantle the detention system and find alternative solutions to safeguard lives’’, IOM said.
Between the previous Tuesday and Thursday, operators of the Ocean Viking and Open Arms NGO vessels reported rescuing 287 migrants. IOM Libya confirms that the Libyan Coast Guard returned 289 others to shore including 14 children and 33 women; they were transferred to a detention centre.
The IOM staff who provided emergency assistance at the disembarkation point described the migrants as “vulnerable and scared”.
Forty-three others were picked up by the Tunisian authorities off the coast of Djerba on Thursday morning. A further 74 migrants also arrived at Lampedusa on Thursday. According to IOM staff in both locations, the boats departed from Zwara, Libya.
As of Wednesday night, IOM Libya was unable to verify reports that another vessel sank with a significant loss of life.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 8,600 migrants have been returned to often over crowded Libyan detention centres where the United Nations has documented unacceptable conditions, violations of human rights and disappearances.
Early on Thursday morning, Tunisia authorities discovered 43 people in a boat off the coast of Djerba, and the NGO rescue vessel Open Arms rescued 73 people and, Ocean Viking a further 90.
While the IOM staff in Lampedusa reported the arrival of a wooden boat carrying 74 migrants, on Wednesday, Ocean Viking rescued a further 30 people and the Libyan Coast Guard returned 289 people from four boats. On Tuesday, Ocean Viking rescued 94 people.