Libya’s coast guard intercepts more than 430 migrants

The war-town country has emerged as a key departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe

Migrants are seen after being rescued by Libyan coast guard in Tripoli, Libya July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
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Libya’s coast guard says it intercepted more than 430 Europe-bound migrants this week, including a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby girl on a boat off the war-torn country’s Mediterranean coast.

Four boats carrying 284 migrants were intercepted in separate operations off the coastal towns of Zawya, Garabulli and Abu-Kemmash, and the city of Tripoli, the coast guard said in a statement.

The migrants were stopped on Wednesday and were handed over to authorities in Tripoli before being taken to detention centres, it said.

In a separate statement, the coast guard stopped another boat with 99 migrants on board off the coast town of Khoms on Thursday.

Among them was a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby girl on the coast guard’s boat, the statement said. When returned to shore, the woman and her baby were taken to a hospital in the town of Khoms.

A sixth boat carrying 50 migrants was also stopped off Khoms on Friday.

The UN’s migration agency said on Friday that in a span of two days, at least nine boats carrying more than 600 migrants have been discovered on the central Mediterranean route. A tenth boat arrived on Thursday in the Italian port of Lampedusa.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) “is deeply concerned about the safety of migrants who are vulnerable to clashes, human trafficking and abuse as the security situation further deteriorates,” said Federico Soda, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.

“Libya is not a safe port; there is a need for a predictable and safe disembarkation mechanism for migrants fleeing violence and abuse,” Mr Soda added.

The IOM said the apparent spike in departures from Libya comes at a time when Tripoli and surrounding areas are witnessing some of the heaviest shelling since the country’s war erupted in April.

Libya has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in African and the Middle East to Europe.

In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to stem the 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.

At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses.

There are limited supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families.