Evidence has emerged that people smuggling gangs operating in Libya are killing migrants who refuse to board overcrowded boats due to set sail for Europe on rough waters.
Earlier this week, the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said 22 migrants were shot dead in the Libyan district of Sabratha during a confrontation with human traffickers.
They were reportedly executed last weekend after some of them raised concerns over the safety of attempting to make the crossing to Italy or Malta in bad weather, according to the Libyan Red Crescent.
Confirming the deaths, the IOM said: “There seems to have been an exchange of fire between the smugglers, which resulted in the death of 22 migrants.”
The organisation added that it was unable to provide any further details about the shooting incident, as it was unable to speak with any survivors who might have been able to shed further light on what happened.
Observers fear the mass shooting may be part of an emerging pattern after the Sabratha Security Directorate reported the discovery of 15 bodies found buried in shallow graves in woodland near the city some 10 days ago.
The victims also appeared to have been shot dead, according to investigators, who exhumed the bodies before moving them to a burial ground typically used to lay to rest migrants who drown attempting to make the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean.
On Thursday, Christine Petré of IOM Libya revealed reports had suggested over 100 bodies had been discovered buried over the past three months close to the town of Bani Walid, some 150 kilometres south west of the Libyan port city of Misrata, a popular departure point for migrant boats heading to Europe.
“Bodies are buried without their handlers identifying either their identities or nationalities,” Petré wrote.
“Many are undocumented as it is not uncommon that bodies are found along the desert road. Their deaths are sometimes related to falling from the trucks that carry them towards the coast.
“Migrants who fall off the trucks and get lost in the desert are not likely to survive. Many of them come from African countries.”
People smugglers who traffic migrants across Libya show little regard for the welfare of their human cargo, and often abandon those who fall off vehicles or become too unwell to travel, despite charging them thousands of euros each for safe passage to Europe.
Some migrants can be forced to work for people smuggling gangs inside Libya for years to earn enough money to pay for their onward travel to Italy or Malta.
Would-be asylum seekers from countries such as Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Nigeria often use their savings to reach Libya, sometimes unaware they will face months of gruelling work as virtual slaves to accumulate the funds needed to attempt crossing the Mediterranean.