At least 57 bodies have washed ashore after two boats sank in the Mediterranean Sea off different towns in western Libya, a coast guard officer and an aid worker have said.
A survivor said there were about 80 passengers on one of the boats that set off for Europe at around 2am local time (00:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
Eleven bodies, including that of a child, were recovered off Qarabulli in eastern Tripoli, said coast guard officer Fathi al-Zayani. The refugees were from Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, he said.
A Red Crescent aid worker in the coastal city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, said authorities had recovered 46 bodies since a boat sank off Libya’s coast five days ago.
The latest toll follows the recovery of 11 bodies on Monday, which were “handed over to authorities” in Sabratha, the Red Crescent confirmed on Facebook.
Pictures were posted online by the Sabratha Red Crescent agency showing bodies in black bags being placed at the back of pick-up trucks by the aid workers wearing face masks and gloves.
The aid worker said more bodies were expected to be washed up in the coming days.
The International Organization for Migration said this month that 441 people had drowned in early 2023 while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe, the most deaths over a three-month period recorded in the past six years.
The central Mediterranean route remains the world’s deadliest migratory sea crossing.
More than a decade of violence in Libya, following the fall and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, helped turn the North African country into fertile ground for people-trafficking gangs, who have been accused of abuses ranging from extortion to slavery.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused authorities and armed groups operating under state auspices of torture and other abuses.
Neighbouring Tunisia has also seen a sharp rise in attempted crossings.
Italy has rescued 47 boats carrying around 1,600 migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea in the last two days and brought them ashore to the island of Lampedusa.
On Monday, Italy offered Tunisia the prospect of money in exchange for economic and political reforms as European Union foreign ministers discussed how to respond to growing instability in the African country.
While the number of crossings in the central Mediterranean rises, Italy’s right-wing government has approved new measures to fine charities who rescue asylum seekers at sea and impound their ships if they break new rules, possibly putting thousands of people’s lives in danger.
Since Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took office in October, the Italian government has targeted the activities of sea rescue charities, accusing them of facilitating the work of people traffickers. The charities dismiss the allegations.