More than 90 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean

CAIRO (AP) — More than 90 people in an overcrowded boat have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, a leading humanitarian group has said, in the latest tragedy involving migrants setting out from North Africa to seek a better life in Europe.

Doctors Without Borders said on Saturday evening that the migrants were on a ship that left Libya last week. It’s unclear exactly when the boat ran into trouble, said Juan Matias Gil, the group’s chief of mission.

The group, also known by its French acronym MSF, said an oil tanker rescued four migrants early Saturday in international waters. Survivors reported they were on the boat with around 100 other migrants, he added.

MSF said the tanker did not respond to its calls not to send the migrants back to Libya, where “they will almost certainly face detention, abuse and mistreatment”.

The group urged Italy and Malta to “assign survivors a place of safety before it is too late”. He also called on the European Union’s border protection agency Frontex and other EU agencies to reveal details of the incident.

Migrants regularly attempt to cross the Mediterranean from the North African nation in a desperate bid to reach European shores. The country has become the main transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

In recent years, human traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos in Libya, smuggling migrants across the long borders of the oil-rich country with six nations. Migrants are then usually crammed into ill-equipped dinghies and set off on risky sea voyages.

About 300 migrants died or were presumed dead along the central Mediterranean route between January 1 and March 28, according to the International Organization for Migration. Around 3,100 were intercepted and brought back to Libya.

Once back in Libya, migrants are usually taken to government-run detention centers where abuse and mistreatment prevail.

In 2021, at least 32,425 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya. At least 1,553 people are believed to have drowned last year, according to the IOM.

Investigators commissioned by the United Nations’ supreme human rights body have found evidence of possible crimes against humanity committed in Libya against migrants detained in the country.

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