Hundreds of migrants are feared dead after two inflatable dinghies capsized near the coast of Libya on Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite last-ditch efforts by the Italian coastguard, more than 240 have likely drowned, survivors told the UN, after two rubber boats, overcrowded and decrepit, fell prey to the Mediterranean’s volatile weather.
According to the chief spokesman for the Organization for Migration Leonard Doyle, migrant sea-travelers have likely resorted to the use of dinghies “due to European navies capturing and destroying many of the fishing boats that smugglers had been using,” Reuters reports.
“In the absence of those boats and with the migrants determined to leave, and the smugglers interested in making money off them, they have been putting them in completely unsafe rubber dinghies,” Doyle said.
This week’s tragedy reflects an all-too familiar course for European-bound migrants, bringing the total number of deceased up to a staggering 4,220, the United Nations Refugee Agency estimates.
“The Mediterranean is a deadly stretch of sea for refugees and migrants, yet they still see no other option but to risk their lives to cross it,” said UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi.
Over 330,000 refugees have traveled to Europe by sea this year, down from over 1 million arrivals last year, the decrease possibly fueled by the EU’s repatriation deal with Turkey.
Many migrants, often fleeing conditions of poverty and violence in their home countries, go on to face exploitation during their precarious trip.
A recent survey by the UN’s International Organization of Migration found that over 70% of migrants crossing the Mediterranean showed strong signs of having been trafficked, exploited, or abused.
Forms of exploitation that migrants suffered include forced work, work without compensation, or being held against their will. Some also reported having been approached by someone offering a job or to arrange a marriage. A small minority of travelers reported having been aware of migrants being approached to sell their own blood, organs or body parts.