The risk of migrants and refugees becoming shipwrecked in the Mediterranean and dying at sea is the highest it has ever been, the United Nations has warned.
The conflict in Libya means desperate people are trying to come to Europe. But there is a lack of rescue ships—withdrawn by European governments and the European Union.
“If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood,” said Carlotta Sami, the spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Italy.
Of the ten NGO rescue boats that were active in the Mediterranean, only one—operated by the German organisation SeaWatch—remains.
Italian authorities seized the ship SeaWatch 3 three weeks ago.
Thousands of people are preparing to leave Libya as the country is hit by war and floods.
But without rescue boats, the number of shipwrecks and drowning is likely to rise dramatically.
Almost 700 people have left the coast of Libya in the last fortnight, according to aid groups.
The Libyan coastguard intercepted around 5 percent of them and sent them back to detention centres. Some 40 percent arrived in Malta and 11 percent in Italy. It is not known what happened to the other 308.
Some 1,940 people have reached Italy from North Africa since the beginning of 2019, according to data from UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.
Almost 350 have died trying—putting the chance of drowning at about one in six.