Libya uses tear gas, rubber bullets to force migrants off ship

More than 90 refugees and migrants refused to leave rescue ship in a standoff that lasted 10 days.

    Refugees and migrants said they were prepared to die than be returned to detention in Libya [Sally Hayden/Al Jazeera]
    Refugees and migrants said they were prepared to die than be returned to detention in Libya [Sally Hayden/Al Jazeera]

    Libyan authorities have used rubber bullets and tear gas to forcibly disembark more than 90 refugees and migrants who had refused to leave a cargo ship docked in the port of Misrata.

    The Panama-flagged ship rescued them off the Libyan coast 10 days ago, as their boat began sinking, and brought them to Misrata. Once there, 14 disembarked willingly but, in the first documented case of its kind, the other 92 refused to leave.

    "A joint force raided the cargo ship and used rubber bullets and tear gas to force [them off the ship]," the commander of the central region coastguards, Tawfiq Esskair, told the Reuters news agency by phone on Tuesday.

    Some of those on board were wounded during disembarkation but were now "in good condition" after treatment in hospital, and all had been taken to a detention centre in the city, said Esskair.

    Refugees and migrants on the cargo ship [Sally Hayden/Al Jazeera]

    During the 10-day standoff, the migrants pleaded to be taken to Europe, saying they are prepared to die than be returned to detention in the North African country.

    Two of those on board - Kai, 18, and Daniel, 16, both from South Sudan - told Al Jazeera earlier this week that it was too dangerous to go back to the centres, where they risk being abused and sold to people smugglers while having little hope of being evacuated. 

    The group was brought to Misrata on November 10, four days after setting sail in a rubber boat with the hope of reaching Italy.

    Daniel said that the rubber boat had travelled almost 200km before the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, The Nivin, crossed its path.

    Both Daniel and Kai said the crew on board The Nivin told them they would be taken to Italy, but instead brought them to Misrata.

    While many on board said they survived torture by human traffickers in Libya, others had stories about serious abuses in official detention centres.

    Al Jazeera has previously heard reports of deaths in detention centres run by the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) which has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

    Libya's western coast has been a main departure point for refugees and migrants fleeing wars and poverty and hoping for new lives in Europe.

    But since last year, heavy pressure from Italy - which had been bearing the brunt of arrivals - resulted in the disruption of coastal smuggling networks and the withdrawal of charity rescue ships.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies