Libyan coastguard intercepts 500 migrants in latest clampdown

Libya has intensified sea interceptions amid a surge in attempts by migrants and refugees to reach Europe.

More than 25,000 people have been intercepted by the EU-trained and equipped Libyan coastguard and returned to the war-torn country [File: Mahmud Turkia/AFP via Getty Images]

Libya’s coastguard has intercepted a wooden boat carrying about 500 Europe-bound migrants and refugees, the United Nations refugee agency said, two days after Tripoli detained 4,000 people in a massive crackdown.

The boat was intercepted on Sunday and people were disembarked at an oil refinery point in the western town of Zawiya, a major launching point for migrants and refugees, according to UNHCR. Among them were Sudanese, Somalis, Bangladeshi and Syrian nationals.

The sea interception marked the latest such interventions amid a surge in crossings and attempted crossings from the North African nation to European shores in recent months.

The Libyan coastguard intercepted about 90 migrants on Saturday, including eight women and three children, and returned them to Tripoli. It also retrieved the bodies of two migrants, while 40 others remained missing at sea, the UN agency said.

On Friday, 4,000 migrants were detained, including hundreds of women and children, in the western town of Gargaresh.

Authorities described it as a security campaign against undocumented migration and drug trafficking, but the interior ministry, which led the crackdown, made no mention of traffickers or smugglers being arrested.

Georgette Gagnon, the UN’s assistant secretary-general resident and humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said in a statement on Saturday that one migrant was killed and at least 15 others injured – six of them seriously – when Libyan security authorities carried out raids on houses and temporary makeshift shelters in Gargaresh.

“The United Nations reiterates that the use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force by security and police forces during law enforcement operations is a violation of national and international law,” Gagnon said.

“We call on the Libyan authorities to investigate reports of security forces’ use of lethal and excessive force against migrants in yesterday’s operations.”

Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Those who are intercepted are often taken to detention centres, where international organisations including Human Rights Watch have found violent abuse to be rife.

Some 44,000 people have reached Europe’s shores by crossing the Central Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya in the first nine months of 2021, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

More than 25,000 people have been intercepted by the European Union-trained and equipped Libyan coastguard and returned to the war-torn country.

More than 1,100 migrants have been reported dead or presumed dead off Libya in the same period.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies