At least 45 migrants and refugees have died off the coast of Libya after the engine of vessel they were travelling on exploded, the UN has reported with five children said to be among the deceased.
The incident in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Zwara, which occurred on Monday, is the deadliest recorded shipwreck of the year so far according to the agency.
Some 37 people, predominantly from Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana, are reported to have survived after being rescued by local fisherman and have since been detained.
The Libyan coast is often used as a jumping off point for entry into Europe via Italy and Malta.
Both the two European nationans and Libya have declared their ports unsafe due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading to reports of boats in distress being refused help and instances where hundreds of asylum seekers have spent weeks adrift outside harbours waiting to disembark, according to the EU’s Civil Liberties Committee.
In a statement the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration said it was “deeply concerned by recent delays in rescue and disembarkation”.
The statement added: “We urge states to swiftly respond to these incidents and systematically provide a predictable port of safety to people rescued at sea. Delays recorded in recent months, and failure to assist, are unacceptable and put lives at avoidable risk.
“Where commercial vessels are the nearest boat capable of carrying out a rescue, they should be promptly provided with a safe port for disembarking the rescued passengers. They should not be instructed to return people to Libya, where they are at risk of the ongoing conflict, severe human rights violations, and arbitrary detention post-disembarkation.”