IOM, UNHCR: Shipwreck off Libya Claims over 40 Lives

Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency are deeply saddened by a tragic shipwreck off the Libyan coast yesterday (19/01), the first of 2021 in the Central Mediterranean, which claimed the lives of at least 43 people. According to IOM and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), UNHCR's partner on the ground, 10 survivors were rescued and brought to shore by Coastal Security in Zwara. 

The boat, which embarked in the early hours of Tuesday from the city of Zawya, reportedly capsized due to bad sea conditions when its engine stopped, just a few hours after departure. Survivors, mainly from Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, and The Gambia, reported that those who perished were all men from West African countries.

IOM staff and UNHCR's partner, IRC, provided them with emergency assistance, including food, water and medical screenings, before they were released from the port.  

Hundreds of people lost their lives last year attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean, where the highest number of fatalities along a single migration journey worldwide occurred. IOM and UNHCR fear that, due to the limited ability to monitor routes, the actual number of people who perished in the Central Mediterranean during 2020 could be much higher. 

This loss of life highlights once more the need for re-activation of State-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources. 

IOM and UNHCR reiterate their call on the international community for an urgent and measurable shift in the approach to the situation in the Mediterranean. This includes ending returns to unsafe ports, establishing a safe and predictable disembarkation mechanism followed by a tangible show of solidarity from European states with countries receiving high numbers of arrivals. 

The situation for migrants and refugees in Libya remains extremely precarious. Arbitrary arrests and arbitrary detention in the direst of conditions continue. Many are victimized and exploited by traffickers and smugglers, held for ransom, tortured, and abused.

IOM and UNHCR acknowledge the efforts made by the Libyan authorities in combatting smuggling and trafficking and appeal for an increase in efforts to prosecute and hold accountable criminal groups responsible for human rights’ abuses targeting thousands of migrants and refugees in the country.   

The agencies stress that should inaction and impunity prevail, more avoidable and tragic loss of life can be expected.


For more information, please contact:   


Safa Msehli at IOM Geneva, Tel: +41 79 403 5526. Email:  

Ryan Schroeder at IOM Brussels Tel + 32 492 25 02 34. Email:  

Flavio Di Giacomo at IOM Rome Tel: +39.347.089.89.96 E-mail:  

For Libya, Tarik Argaz,,  +216 29 961295

For Libya, Caroline Gluck,, M/WhatsApp +218 91 000 7195 (Tripoli) or M/WhatsApp +216 299 255 06 (Tunis)

In Amman (regional), Rula Amin,, +962 79 004 5849

In Amman (regional), Andreas Kirchhof,, +962 79 182 5473

In Geneva, Andrej Mahecic,, +41 79 642 9709

In New York, Kathryn Mahoney,, +1 347 443 7646