The incident occurred on Tuesday, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Twitter on Wednesday that Libyan officials had recovered at least 11 bodies from the scene.
The UN reported that seven people managed to survive and arrive on Libyan soil in “very poor conditions,” adding that they were transferred to a hospital.
The disaster was the most recent maritime catastrophe to occur in the central Mediterranean, a major migration route.
In the Mediterranean since 2014, 25,821 migrants and refugees have vanished, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants programme.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East trying to make it to Europe.
A controversial migration agreement between Italy and Libya was automatically renewed earlier this month for a period of three years, amid warnings by humanitarian organisations that this might make Rome and the European Union complicit in crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that “assisting Libya’s coast guard, knowing that it will facilitate the return of thousands of people to serious human rights violations, makes Italy and the European Union complicit in such crimes”.
Since January 29, at least 531 migrants and refugees have been intercepted by the so-called Libyan coast guard and returned to the war-torn north African country, according to the IOM .
Oil-rich Libya plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
A June 2022 report by the United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya found that migrants and refugees faced “murder, enforced disappearance, torture, enslavement, sexual violence, rape, and other inhumane acts in connection with their arbitrary detention”.
In September 2022, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) found that crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya “may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes”.