Flags flew at half-mast in Mali on Thursday as the government announced 48 of its citizens drowned in the Mediterranean on a single day over the weekend, all trying to reach Europe.
The west African nation accounted for the fifth largest contingent of arrivals to Italy by sea last year, according to the International Organization for Migration, fleeing poverty, unemployment and instability.
“Forty-eight of our compatriots lost their lives in the Mediterranean on Sunday, January 7,” said a foreign ministry statement issued late Wednesday.
Sixty-nine people escaped with their lives, including four children, and were identified on Monday in Libya by an embassy delegation, the statement added.
They will be sent back to Mali “as quickly as possible”, it said.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced 24 hours of national mourning and collective prayers on Friday for the victims, and ordered an investigation into the people smugglers responsible for transporting the migrants to Libya.
The foreign ministry urged parents to educate young people on the risks of irregular migration, a phenomenon across Africa that has taken the lives of thousands and pushed many more into modern-day slavery and long spells in detention centres in Libya.
“Despite all the campaigning to educate against irregular migration… and the efforts made to bring back our countrymen through voluntary return schemes, young people continue to risk this extremely dangerous course to go to Europe,” the statement added.
Last year more than 117,000 migrants made the journey across the Mediterranean, while more than 3,000 lost their lives at sea.
For Italy, 2017 was a turning point: the country went from large-scale arrivals in the first six months to a sharp drop-off, thanks to controversial agreements in Libya.
Mali faces twin threats from warring armed factions in its north and a jihadist insurgency in the north and centre, along with the youth unemployment and a lack of opportunities that afflict many of its more peaceful neighbours.