At least 90 people are feared drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s migrant boat capsized, the UN’s migration agency has said.
Ten bodies have so far washed ashore near the Libyan town of Zuwara, Olivia Headon, a spokeswoman for International Organisation for Migration, said. Eight were believed to be Pakistani, and two Libyan.
Two survivors swam to shore and another was rescued by a fishing boat, Headon said.
The deaths highlight the increasing number of Pakistanis travelling to Libya in an effort to reach Europe. They were the 13th largest nationality among migrants making the crossing last year, but the third-largest contingent in January.
Despite an early surge in the total number of migrants trying to reach Italy from Libya at the start of January, the figures for the month as a whole were down on the same period in 2017 from 4,531 to 4,256.
There were 218 deaths on the Libya to Italy route in January and 246 in the Mediterranean as a whole, making it the second deadliest month since June 2017.
Julia Black from the IOM’s missing migrants project said: “There is no way to predict the number of deaths we record. Almost all migrants who die in the Mediterranean are victims of chance, but it is heart-breaking that so often dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths occur in a single day. While the deaths of these migrants are unpredictable, there is an undeniable trend of tragedy in the Mediterranean.”
Speaking in Tunisia on Thursday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, attacked the Nato intervention in Libya in 2011 that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, led by the British government under David Cameron.
The operation was a serious mistake with no plan for the aftermath put in place, Macron said.
“France as well as states of Europe and the United States have a responsibility in what is happening in the region,” he said. “We have collectively plunged Libya into anomie without being able to manage the situation afterwards and this has directly impacted the region. The idea of unilaterally and militarily resolving the situation of a country is a false idea.”
The deaths come on the anniversary of a memorandum of understanding signed by Italy and the UN-backed government in Tripoli, which was designed to help Libya patrol its coastal and southern borders.
Oxfam said the deal had increased the number of people held in detention centres, and did not do enough to safeguard human rights and international law. Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention that protects people who flee conflict and persecution.
The charity said recent efforts by the African Union, the EU and the UN to release migrants from detention centres were welcome, but that they did not help the majority of migrants stranded in Libya because authorities recognise only a handful of nationalities as deserving of international protection.
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