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 with 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 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 they included pregnant women, children and babies. Some had been burned by spilled petrol over 75 percent of their bodies, said Jan Defransciscis, an MSF nurse, and others were suffering from pneumonia.
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.
Both the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN believe more than 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean to date.