More than 100 migrants, including at least 20 children, died in early September when their crowded rubber boats were wrecked off the coast of Libya, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid agency said on Monday.
Two inflatable vessels had set out from the Libyan coast early on 1 September, each carrying 160 people, MSF said in a statement on its website.
One boat’s engine failed later that day and the other began to deflate, it quoted a survivor as saying. Some survived by clinging to floating wreckage.
A survivor told MSF that “European rescuers” had come by aircraft and thrown life rafts, but migrants remained in the water for hours.
“On our boat, only 55 people survived. Many people died, including families and children. They could have been saved if rescuers had come earlier,” MSF quoted the unidentified survivor as saying.
Sudanese, Malians, Nigerians, Cameroonians, Ghanaians, Libyans, Algerians and Egyptians were among those on board the wrecked vessels.
The Libyan coastguard brought 276 people to the Libyan port of Khoms on 2 September, MSF said, including the survivors of the wrecked boats.
MSF, which treated the survivors, said there were pregnant women, children, and even babies. Some had suffered burns from escaped fuel and others had caught pneumonia from staying so long in the water.
Some had burns over 75 percent of their body, said Jan Defransciscis, an MSF nurse who works in Misrata, Libya.
The agency said they faced further ordeals in Libya.
“Many of the survivors are mourning the loss of their relatives,” it said. “Instead of receiving the support they need, refugees and migrants are arrested and detained in deplorable living conditions, without basic safeguards or legal recourse.”
It added: “MSF reiterates its call to end the arbitrary detention of thousands of refugees and migrants across Libya.”
Libya is a key transit point for thousands of people fleeing war and poverty trying to reach European shores.
Hundreds die every year crossing the Mediterranean in dangerous conditions trying to reach Italy, with traffickers taking advantage of political instability in the North African country by putting thousands onto flimsy boats from Libyan shores.
While the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean as of this month, the UN said the death toll had surpassed 1,000 as of 21 June.