A boat carrying 86 migrants from Libya sank in the Mediterranean Sea and only three passengers are known to have survived the shipwreck the day after an airstrike on a Libyan detention center killed at least 44 migrants, the United Nations migration agency said yesterday.
The International Organization for Migration said the boat sank late Wednesday off the Tunisian city of Zarzis and 82 of the migrants who had been on board were missing. Fishermen pulled four men from the sinking boat, and one died overnight, Lorena Lando, the agency’s head in Tunisia, said.
The United Nations and aid groups have blamed the airstrike tragedy in part on the European Union’s policy of partnering with Libyan militias to prevent migrants from trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Critics of the EU’s program say it leaves migrants at the mercy of brutal traffickers or confined in detention facilities near front lines, often without adequate food and water. Migrants who survived late Tuesday’s airstrike said they were conscripted by a local militia to work in a weapons workshop.
The decision to store weapons at the facility in Tajoura, to the east of Tripoli, may have made it a target for the self-styled Libyan National Army, which is at war with an array of militias allied with a weak, U.N.-recognized government in the capital.
The Tripoli government has blamed the strike, which wounded more than 130, on the LNA and its foreign backers.
The LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, says it targeted a nearby militia position but denies striking the hangar where the migrants were being held.
Hifter, whose forces control much of eastern and southern Libya, has received aid from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia.