65 migrants found buried in mass grave in Libyan desert

The U.N.’s migration agency expressed alarm Friday over the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of at least 65 migrants in the deserts of western Libya.

Earlier this week, Libya’s criminal investigations authority reported the grave had been found in the Shuayrif region, 220 miles south of the capital, Tripoli.

On its Facebook page, it said 65 bodies of unidentified migrants had been unearthed from the grave, samples were taken for DNA testing and the bodies were reburied in a specified graveyard for later investigation.


The U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said the nationalities of the discovered migrants and the circumstances of their deaths was not known, but that they likely died while being smuggled through the desert.

The Libyan flag, used at the time by anti-Gaddafi rebels, flies outside the Libyan consulate in Prague, Czech Republic, August 22, 2011. (Photo by MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images)

Libya is a major route for migrants making their way from other parts of Africa and intending to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Human traffickers have benefited from the political chaos in Libya to smuggle migrants across its long, desert borders, often a deadly route. Once at the coast, migrants are crowded onto ill-equipped vessels, including rubber boats, and set off on risky sea voyages.

According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 962 migrants were reported dead and 1,563 missing off Libya in 2023. Those who are intercepted and returned to Libya are held in government-run detention centers rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture.

The latest deaths show the need for a coordinated response to migrants and smuggling, including “regular pathways that provide opportunities for legal migration” and greater efforts by governments all along the routes to ensure migrants’ safety, the IOM said.

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