People Smugglers Lead at Least 57 to Their Deaths as Migrant Boat Shipwrecks

TOPSHOT - Migrants wait to be rescued by Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean Sea, 30 nautic miles from the Libyan coast, on August 6, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS (Photo credit should read ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

At least 57 people have drowned off the coast of Libya after another boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, as people smugglers continue to operate in the area.

At least 20 women and two children are thought to be among the 57 victims of the shipwreck, which took place off the Libyan coast near the port of Khoms. Local fishermen and the Libyan coastguard rescued a further 18 people.

Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), announced the suspected drowning deaths on Monday and told the EU-funded website InfoMigrants that those rescued were mainly from West Africa.

The website notes that many migrant boats that leave Libya or Tunisia often do so either at night or during bad weather, which allows them to avoid detection from the coast guard but increases risks to those on board, especially when boats are overloaded.

People smuggling is a lucrative business for gangs in North Africa and Europe, with each boat crossing — which sometimes carry dozens of people at a time in often unseaworthy and unreliable boats — worth tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Euros. Many people smugglers have been arrested and prosecuted for their hand in abusing, raping, and killing the migrants paying them to get to Europe, but most have not been brought to justice for the thousands who have died in avoidable situations at sea.

The shipwreck is one of the worst so far this year in terms of casualties, as well over 1,000 people have drowned attempting to reach Europe by sea.

The IOM released figures earlier this month showing the large increase of migrant drownings at sea compared to last year, with deaths doubling in the first six months of 2021 compared to last year.

The vast majority of drowning deaths have taken place in the central Mediterranean route, which sees migrants leave primarily from Libya and Tunisia in an attempt to reach either Italy or Malta.

The rise in the number of migrants departing from North Africa has been met with increased activity from migrant taxi NGOs, which has dropped off hundreds of migrants in Italy so far this year.

Earlier this month, the French NGO SOS Mediterranee transferred nearly 600 migrants to Italy in a single trip.

So far this year, according to figures published by the UNHCR, Italy has seen nearly 27,000 migrant arrivals, while 2020 saw just over 34,000 for the entire year.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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