They set out full of hope, clutching a few cherished belongings, or the hand of a loved one as they stepped onto the overcrowded, barely seaworthy boats they thought would take them to new lives in Europe.
But within hours, their journeys across the Mediterranean ended in tragedy. Now days, weeks, or even months later, their bodies are washing up on the beaches of Libya.
However with no stable, functioning government to take control of the situation, ordinary Libyans are struggling to cope with the tide of human remains.
Mohammed Misrati, spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent Society in Tripoli, says most of the migrants’ bodies wash up along a stretch of Libya’s western coast, in Zuwara, Khoms and Sabrata where many of their journeys began.
“We collected 40 bodies in just one operation in Zuwara,” explains Misrati, adding that while he doesn’t have exact numbers, he believes the problem is “much worse” this year.
“It’s a problem we’ve faced for a long time but it’s never been this bad,” he says. “In previous years it used to be in the dozens, now it’s in the hundreds.”
According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of refugees and migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year has already passed 2,000 and as of mid-August some 264,500 had arrived successfully in Europe.
With no officials or authorities stepping in to deal with the situation, Misrati says volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent have been left to cope alone, patrolling the region’s beaches in search of remains.
“The corpses wash up on shore and our volunteers are having to move the bodies and manage the remains of the dead,” he said.
The LRCS relies on 7,000 volunteers across the country. They come from diverse backgrounds and have varying levels of expertise, but many are not trained to deal with human remains.–CNN
“It is psychologically difficult for them,” says Misrati. “What is especially difficult is the sight of the corpses, seeing human remains reduced to meat and bones, often without any way to trace their origin or families.”
The bodies are often found with nothing to identify them, meaning they have to be buried in anonymous graves.
After collecting the bodies, LRCS’s volunteers take them to local hospitals, where the authorities take charge of the remains and attempt to identify them where possible, and contact the appropriate embassy or community.
The local authorities also bear responsibility for burying the dead, in graveyards in Tripoli for Muslims, non-Muslims, and the unidentified.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is helping its Libyan team train and equip the volunteers.