(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
The bodies of at least 85 migrants who drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean on unsafe and overcrowded boats were found washed up ashore in western Libya near the city of Zuwara on Thursday.
It has been reported that more than 1000 migrants have died this week trying to cross the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Italy. A large number of the migrants are said to have departed from Zuwara and Sabratha in the northwest of Libya.
More deaths are expected in the coming months as many migrants wait until summer and fall to make their journey due to better weather conditions and warmer seas migrants.
The high number of deaths this week, which is up 35% since last year, is reportedly due to the fact that human smugglers are using more dangerous routes and riskier tactics to profit from the desperate people trying to reach safety or economic promise in Europe.
“The North Africa-Italy route is dramatically more dangerous: 2,119 of the deaths reported to far this year have been among people making this journey, making for odds of dying as high as one in 23,” said UNHCR spokesman William Spindler.
Last week marks only the second time since 2014 that 1,000 deaths or more on the Mediterranean have been tallied in a single month, let alone a single week, said International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joel Millman. The only other time was in April last year, with 1,244 dead.
So far this year over 40,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Italy by means of human traffickers.
Human smuggling in Libya is prevalent as traffickers take advantage of the political chaos and lawlessness in Libya to carry out their illegal operations, often working alongside local militias.
Reuters reported, that the head of the European Union’s Mediterranean naval mission recently said that people smuggling was estimated to account for between 30 and 50 percent of the gross domestic product in northwestern Libya.
Spindler also noted, that “the recent increase in numbers is linked to efforts by smugglers to maximize income before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, in the coming week.”
The UNHCR spokesman said that there is not a large number of Syrians, Afghans or Iraqis trying to cross to Europe from the Mediterranean after the closing of the Turkey-Greece rout. Rather that the main nationalities crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy route so far this year have been Nigerians and Gambians, 9 per cent have been Somalis and 8 per cent Eritreans.