The International Organization for Migration reports that at least 240 migrants, most from West Africa, have died or disappeared in two shipwrecks off the coast of Libya. IOM says 29 survivors, including women, children and several babies were brought to Lampedusa, Italy by the Italian coast guard.
IOM says most of the migrants already had died by the time rescuers arrived.
The organization's Spokesman Itayi Viriri tells VOA about 12 bodies have been fished out of the sea and more are likely to be recovered as the rescue effort continues.
“It is a really, really big worry because we are seeing these unprecedented numbers of people dying when normally around this time of year, whilst there have been tragedies like this, we have never really experienced the numbers that we are seeing now,” said Viriri. “The fact that we are already talking of over 4,200 dead, when for all of last year, we are talking of 3,700 is of huge concern.”
Viriri says smugglers are apparently persuading the migrants to make the treacherous journey by telling them Europe is going to turn over the rescue mission to the Libyan and Tunisian coastguards, and now might be their last chance to leave North Africa.
“The smugglers are certainly using that as a ploy to make sure that people who normally would not consider getting on to a boat at this time of year when the seas are really choppy and rough—that they reconsider because as the smugglers are telling them, they will not get the opportunity in the near future when first of all the Libyan and Tunisian coast guards clamp down on boats being launched off their shores,” said Viriri.
Viriri says another big worry is that smugglers are piling the migrants into rubber dinghies. He says these flimsy craft are not suitable for the Mediterranean at any time of year, but they are especially dangerous now in the choppy winter seas.