The U.N. migration agency (IOM) said a boat carrying 86 migrants from Libya sank in the Mediterranean overnight, and just three people on board survived, with 82 missing. The shipwreck late Wednesday off the Tunisian city of Zarzis came a day after a deadly airstrike on a Libyan detention center that killed at least 44 migrants. Tunisian fishermen came across the sinking boat and were able to pull out four men, but could not find any of the other passengers on the boat, said Lorena Lando, head of IOM in Tunisia. One of the four, a man from Ivory Coast, died overnight and the other three remained hospitalized.
The turmoil engulfing the North African country has become a death trap for thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan African countries, seeking to escape poverty and find a better life in Europe. The U.N. considers Libya an unsafe country for migrants, given the considerable risk of being subjected to serious human rights abuses. Thousands of migrants who have been caught trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya have been returned to the North African country and put in detention centers.
The Mediterranean Sea continues to be a deadly route as six people died every day while attempting to reach European shores in 2018. In its report titled "Desperate Journeys," the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, "An estimated 2,275 people died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018, despite a major drop in the number of arrivals reaching European shores."
The death rate among migrants crossing the sea from Libya to Italy or Malta more than doubled last year as naval search and rescue missions were reduced. Since June 2018, when Italy's populist government took office and started turning away nongovernmental organization (NGO) rescue ships, migrants saved at sea have repeatedly been trapped in intra-EU rows about where they should be allowed to land.