Hundreds of Europe-bound refugees were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya’s coast and taken into detention over the last 24 hours, according to a United Nations agency.
The International Organization for Migration’s Libya branch tweeted on Friday that more than 1,000 refugees have recently departed from Libya’s shores, escaping “dire humanitarian conditions”.
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More than 800 of them were stopped by the Libyan coastguard and sent to the North African country’s notorious detention centres, the IOM said.
In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that removed and killed longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for refugees and 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.
The IOM posted photographs of mostly African refugee men waiting at disembarkation points in Libya and speaking to IOM staff.
“While IOM teams continue to provide assistance at disembarkation points, we maintain that Libya is not a safe port,” tweeted the IOM.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya’s coastguard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings.
Rights groups, however, say those policies leave refugees and migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centres rife with abuses.
🚨 In 24 hours, more than 1,000 migrants departed from #Libya, fleeing dire humanitarian conditions.
Over 800 of them were intercepted and returned to shore.
— IOM Libya (@IOM_Libya) February 5, 2021
On January 19, a boat carrying refugees 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 refugees seeking better lives in Europe. The IOM had cited survivors as saying the dead were all men from West African nations.
Since February 2017, more than 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to the North African country, UN figures show.
The EU has reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($100m) in funding and training the Libyan coastguard to stop the crossings.
An Associated Press investigation revealed the EU sent more than 327.9 million euros ($373.8m) to Libya, largely channelled through UN agencies.
EU nations such as Italy and Malta have often refused docking permission to humanitarian rescue boats.