The shipwreck was the last along the central Mediterranean route where around 118 migrants have died this year and more than 17,000 since 2014.
At least 41 people drowned when their boat capsized in the central Mediterranean on Saturday, the latest shipwreck involving migrants and refugees fleeing conflict-ridden Libya and seeking a better life in Europe.
The United Nations migration and refugee agencies, IOM and UNHCR, said in a joint statement Wednesday that the drowned were among at least 120 migrants on an inflatable boat that left Libya on February 18.
According to testimonies gathered by UNHCR, the dinghy began to take on water after about 15 hours at sea, and eight people died before a merchant ship came to the aid.
“After about 15 hours, the canoe started to take on water, and those on board tried every way they could to call for help,” a joint IOM-UNHCR statement said. .
“In those hours, six people died after falling into the water, while two others attempted to swim to a boat spotted in the distance and drowned.
“After about three hours the vessel Vos Triton approached the dinghy to perform a rescue, but in the difficult and delicate operation many people lost their lives.
The ship rescued the survivors and took them to the Sicilian port town of Porto Empedocle in Italy. Among the missing were three children and four women, one of whom has left a newborn baby currently in Lampedusa.
The shipwreck was the last along the central Mediterranean migration route, where around 118 migrants have died this year.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died at sea as they tried to reach Europe from Africa. More than 17,000 of them were in the central Mediterranean, described by the UN as the most dangerous migration route in the world.
In the years since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, war-torn Libya has become the main transit point for migrants.
Libyan-based smugglers launch ships, many of them fragile rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats, crowded with migrants hoping to reach European shores to seek asylum.
The journey – after years of suffering and torture in the home country, during the travels and in Libya – begins with a departure in the middle of the night, often on overcrowded boats, with no water and no food.
Questionable life jackets for hazardous conditions are only for those who can afford them.
In addition to the casualty figures, there are those who were forcibly returned to Libya, described as “hell” by those who survived the ordeal in transit.
Since February 2017, at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard and returned to the North African country, according to UN figures.
The European Union is said to have spent more than 90 million euros ($ 109 million) to finance and train the Libyan coast guard to stop the crossings.
A Associated Press Inquiry revealed that the EU had sent more than 327.9 million euros ($ 397.9 million) to Libya, much of it channeled through UN agencies.
EU countries like Italy and Malta have often refused permission to moor to humanitarian rescue boats.
“The obligation to rescue people at sea must always be respected, regardless of their nationality and legal status, in accordance with international obligations,” the UN statement added.
“The fact that migrants and refugees continue to desperately try to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean demonstrates the need for an immediate international effort to provide them with viable alternatives to these deadly sea crossings.
“The solutions exist, what is needed is a radical change to strengthen access to education and increase the sources of income available in the countries along the route.”