Libyan coastguards 'turn back more than 1,000 migrants'

Libyan coastguards 'turn back more than 1,000 migrants'
Libyan coastguard vessels intercepted 1,074 migrants during an intensive day of operations west of the capital Tripoli on Saturday, a spokesman said.
2 min read
17 September, 2017
More than 600,000 migrants have crossed from Libya [AFP]

More than 1,000 migrants were intercepted by Libyan coastguard vessels during an intensive day of operations west of the capital Tripoli on Saturday, a spokesman said.

Some 1,074 migrants attempting to cross early on Saturday were stopped by coastguards from Zawiya, about 45 km (28 miles) west of Tripoli, said Ayoub Qassem, a coastguard spokesman.

“The coastal guards of Zawiya refinery rescued 1,074 illegal migrants on board more than eight boats,” Qassem said. 

The migrants were from sub-Saharan African and Arab countries and had left from Sabratha and the nearby Talil and Wadi areas, Qassem noted.

Despite the latest interception, there has been a sharp drop in migrant crossings between Libya and Italy since July, largely attributed to armed groups around the smuggling hubs of Sabratha and Zawiya blocking departures.

However, some boats have still been leaving from the area, where a number of different smuggling groups operate. Smugglers generally pack migrants into flimsy inflatable boats that are later picked up by international vessels and taken to Italy.

Six years since a revolution that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has become a key departure point for people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Crossings from Libya spiked in 2014, and since last year the North African country has been the main gateway for migrants trying to reach Europe. 

The interior ministry said 11,193 new arrivals had been registered in July, compared with 23,552 in July 2016.

Arrivals for the first seven months of this year were 95,214, up 0.78 percent on the same period last year.

Some 600,000 mostly African refugees have arrived in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014.

The EU and Italy have been providing support for Libya’s coastguards to enable them to intercept more migrants, a strategy that has been criticised by human rights groups.

But rights campaigners fear Italy's focus on strengthening the Libyan coastguard to ensure boatloads of migrants are intercepted before reaching international waters could place thousands of people with a right to asylum at serious risk.

Refugee agencies say Libya is too unstable for any potential refugee to be safely returned there.

There is particular concern over the fate of migrants who end up in the country's detention camps, where conditions are usually squalid and a lack of regulation means people risk torture, sexual abuse and forced labour.