The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday that so far, an estimated 970 irregular migrants trying to reach Europe from the Mediterranean died this year.

Paul Dillon, spokesman for the IOM, said at a UN news conference a boat carrying at least 70 passengers departing from the port city of Al Khums in Libya sank on Sunday, and at least 57 irregular migrants are missing.

Fishermen rescued 18 people for whom the IOM provided health care and food, Dillon noted, saying the organization had information that at least 20 of those missing were women and two were small children, with the survivors coming from Nigeria, Ghana, and Gambia.

“This latest tragedy pushes the 2021 death toll on the central Mediterranean route to roughly 970 men, women, and children.

“This year has seen a rise in departures on the central Mediterranean migration route, and an increase in the number of interceptions and more arrivals,” Dillon added.

He also said better migration management practices, governance, and greater solidarity are needed from EU member states.

Many of those seeking European shores flee the likes of poverty, drought, and conflict.

“We have seen, of course, the life-saving, oftentimes dangerous work done by non-governmental organizations on the central Mediterranean route,” said the IOM spokesman.

“The time for the state-led approach to search and rescue is now before more innocent lives are lost.”

Dillon also noted that the IOM knows from experience that returnees to Libya are typically brought to detention centers and well-documented cases of abuse and exploitation.

“We remain deeply concerned about the operations of some of these centers and the process through which people are rendered back to them after they have been intercepted on their migratory journey across the central Mediterranean route,” he added.

Copyright 2022 Anadolu Agency. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.