The Italian coast guard and rescue agencies said that they had found dozens of bodies in the water, "mostly toddlers." The Libyan coast guard has been criticized recently for its treatment of the would-be migrants.
Dozens of refugees, most of them small children, drowned in the Mediterranean on Wednesday in the latest tragedy to befall migrants escaping famine and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.
Rescue group MOAS announced it had found the bodies while the Italian coast guard said that it had been forced to call in reinforcements in recent days as some 1,700 people had been packed in 15 small boats.
MOAS founder Chris Catrambone showed an update on the situation on Twitter:
"Not a scene from a horror movie... Real life tragedy unfolding on Europe's doorstep today!" Catrambone wrote.
Some 50,000 migrants have been rescued at sea en route to Italy this so far this year, a 46 percent increase over the same period in 2016. In that time, some 1,300 have lost their lives during the perilous crossing.
Despite huge efforts on the part of the Italian government, European Union, and internationally-recognized authorities in Libya - the conflict in the latter means that human smugglers are usually able to operate with complete freedom.
Libya's own strategy has taken a more violent turn as of late. The German NGO Jugend Rettet said on Tuesday that it had rescued some migrants whose boat had been fired upon by the Libyan coast guard, ostensibly in an effort to hit the human traffickers running the vessel. When Libyan authorities find refugee boats and tow them back to their own shores, they reportedly bring the would-be migrants straight to detention centers renowned for human rights abuses.
Published on DW on May 23, 2017.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Martin Kobler is gravely concerned at continued and persistent reports of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law being perpetrated across Libya . He calls on all parties to send a strong message that these acts are completely unacceptable and back these messages with credible investigations to identify and hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable.
“It is high time to put an end to the gross violations being committed across Libya. I remind all parties that those responsible for committing, ordering or failing to prevent these acts, including hostage-taking, torture, extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and desecration of corpses when in a position to do so, are criminally liable, including in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
Martin Kobler warned that continued fighting in residential areas continued to endanger the civilian population, in an environment already fraught with criminal and political kidnappings. Credible, effective and accountable security institutions are urgently required to end the deteriorating security situation.
“The human rights and security provisions within the Libya Political Agreement must be implemented. A framework exists to uphold human rights and the rule of law, what is required is the political will to implement it by all relevant stakeholders,” said the Special Representative.
This article was published on UNSMIL's website on March 23, 2017.