Libya is the main transit point for migrants and asylum-seekers from countries across Africa, and parts of Asia, trying to reach Europe.

Insecurity and lawlessness in the country has increased since the ousting of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the civil war that followed. Today, rival power centers and militias are locked in a battle for control. A UN-backed Government of National Accord rules in the capital Tripoli, but a parallel parliament exists in eastern Libya.

Libyan authorities blame a lack of help from neighboring countries in preventing migrants from reaching Libya in the first place, and have repeatedly sought the assistance of the international community to solve the issue.

An infographic about 2017 Mediterranean migrant crossings

Credit: Alex Newman/PRI

Meanwhile, smugglers in Libya have taken advantage of a weakened state to increase their operations. This year, almost 60,000 migrants have boated from Libya to Italy, which is a primary route.

After historic arrival numbers in 2016, the European Union raised its support for the Libyan coast guard earlier this year to prevent migrants from reaching its shores. In January, it announced $3.4 million to help train and equip Libyan authorities, adding to an already existing training program. The Libyan coast guard has reportedly turned back 6,350 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

Other ships intercept the migrant boats and sell them into slavery or bring them to work farms, the women converted into sex slaves.

MSF said the EU is complicit in making the seas even more deadly by continuing to support the coast guard.

“Knowing that the Libyan coast guard has been receiving training and support from the European Union makes the incident all the more disturbing. We believe that the Italian and European authorities should not be providing support to the Libyan coast guard, either directly or indirectly. This support is further endangering people’s lives,” Loof said.