At least 22 migrants, including three children, all from Mali, died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya, the United Nations said Tuesday, citing survivors who reported drowning.
After nine days at sea in a dinghy, 61 survivors, mostly from Mali, were rescued by Libyan coastguards and brought to shore, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
The migrants had boarded the boat in the Libyan town of Zuwara, near the Tunisian border, on 22 June, said IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli. "After nine days at sea, they were recovered by the Libyan coastguard," she added. They were brought ashore on Saturday.
"According to the survivors, 22 migrants, all from Mali, died during the journey. The reported causes of death were drowning and dehydration. Among the dead are three children," the spokeswoman continued.
"The total number of survivors is 61, the majority of whom are from Mali," she said, stressing that some migrants were in very poor health and had been taken to hospitals by IOM. "The remaining migrants were taken to the Al-Maya detention centre," she said.
The Ministry of Malians Living Abroad issued a statement on Tuesday calling on "all our people to fight against irregular migration".
The chaos that followed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011 has made Libya a preferred route for tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Arab countries and South Asia, seeking to reach Europe via the Italian coast, some 300 km from the Libyan coast. Several thousand of them are stranded in Libya, often in deplorable conditions.
Would-be emigrants fall prey to traffickers or even die attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing, and Libya is regularly criticised by NGOs for its mistreatment of migrants.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 6,340 migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya, according to an IOM report released in May. At least 129 people have died attempting the crossing and 459 are missing and presumed dead, according to IOM.