Libya’s coastguard has intercepted more than 80 Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the North African country, the United Nations migration agency said.
The migrants were returned to Libyan soil and will most likely be held under dire conditions in detention centres that Libya has become notorious for, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.
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“So far this year, some 300 people, including women and children, were returned to the country and ended up in detention,” said the IOM. “We reiterate that no one should be returned to Libya.”
The IOM posted photographs on Twitter showing its staff members speaking with mostly African male migrants on a Libyan pier.
This was the second interception off Libya in as many days. Late on Thursday, the IOM said the Libyan navy returned to Libya another 86 migrants, including seven women and 19 children, who were intercepted earlier in the Mediterranean.
🚨 Today, over 80 migrants were returned to Libya by the coast guard.
So far this year, some 300 people, including women and children, were returned to the country and ended up in detention.
We reiterate that no one should be returned to Libya. pic.twitter.com/NnicqTB8sK
— IOM Libya (@IOM_Libya) January 22, 2021
In the years since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed Muammar Gaddafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.
On Tuesday, a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and at least 43 people drowned. The tragedy marked the first maritime disaster in 2021 involving migrants seeking better lives in Europe.
The IOM had cited survivors as saying the dead were all men from West African nations.
In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings.
Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centres rife with abuses.
Also on Friday, SOS Mediterranee tweeted its rescue ship, Ocean Viking, found and rescued two rubber boats in distress, carrying 140 people, including women and children. Earlier, Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants, tweeted that these two boats had taken off from Libyan shores.
L'équipe de l’#OceanViking a porté secours à environ 140 personnes à bord de deux canots pneumatiques en détresse. Les opérations ont commencé dès le lever du jour. De nombreux enfants en bas âge et femmes font partie des personnes rescapées. #TogetherForRescue pic.twitter.com/D486oD0nf0
— SOS MEDITERRANEE France (@SOSMedFrance) January 22, 2021
Translation: The team #OceanViking rescued 140 people on board two inflatable boats in distress. Operations began at dawn. Children and women were among the survivors.