CAIRO — A flimsy dinghy has collapsed and sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, leaving at least 30 people, including women and children, missing and presumed dead, an international charity said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials said they had found the bodies of 20 migrants they said died of thirst in the desert near the border with Chad.
The deaths marked the latest tragedies involving migrants who use Libya as a transit point on a perilous journey to Europe.
The ship sank on the deadly route of the central Mediterranean Sea, said Doctors Without Borders, also known by its abbreviation MSF for the group’s French name.
A rescue vessel operated by MSF reached the boat and managed to rescue dozens of other migrants, including women, the charity said. A pregnant woman has died aboard the rescue vessel Geo Barents.
The missing migrants include five women and eight children, MSF said.
“We saw so many people drown – men, women and children – and we will never forget the day we had yesterday. We tried to save them but we couldn’t save them all,” said a 17-year-old Cameroonian in a testimony published by MSF on Twitter.
Libya has become in recent years the main transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country descended into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In recent years, human traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos in Libya, smuggling migrants across the country’s long borders with six nations. Migrants are then crammed into ill-equipped dinghies and set off on risky sea voyages.
Among the migrants rescued from Monday’s boat sinking was a woman who lost her child in the sinking and another who said she lost two children, the charity said. Three people on board needed emergency treatment, including a 4-month-old baby, and they were evacuated to Malta. The infant was evacuated with his mother, MSF said.
“The survivors are exhausted; many ingested large amounts of seawater and several people suffered from hypothermia after spending many hours in the water,” said Stephanie Hofstetter, MSF medical team leader on board.
The charity called on Italian and Maltese authorities to determine a safe port to allow survivors to disembark.
The loss of life is the latest tragedy at sea involving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from the North African nation in a desperate bid to reach European shores.
“This is an example of what is happening every week, even every day in the central Mediterranean,” said Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration. “The lack of active surveillance and search and rescue by state actors makes it extremely difficult for us to get the full picture.”
In recent years, the European Union has cooperated with Libyan authorities to prevent the crossings in policies criticized by rights groups.
Rights groups and UN agencies have for years documented systematic abuses against migrants in Libya, including forced labor, beatings, rape and torture. These abuses often accompany attempts to extort money from families before migrants are allowed to leave Libya on smugglers’ boats.
Libyan authorities said on Wednesday they found the bodies of 20 migrants who died of thirst in the desert 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) from the border with Chad.
The Ambulance and Emergency Authority in the southeastern town of Kufra said the migrants were en route from Chad to Libya when their vehicle broke down about 310 kilometers (192 miles) to the south from the city.
It was not immediately clear when the vehicle broke down.
The agency uploaded footage showing rescue workers putting dead migrants into black body bags before moving them to waiting vehicles.