In a sign that it may become increasingly difficult to cross the Mediterranean on boat, a major route of irregular migration to Europe from Africa, Libya’s coast guard intercepted about 1,000 migrants and returned them to Libya within three days in the past week.
From Sunday until Tuesday, a total of 935 migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe from Libya were intercepted by the coast guard and returned to the north African country, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“Nearly 1,000 migrants have been intercepted and returned to #Libya in the past three days,” Safa Msehli, spokesperson for the UN agency, said on Twitter.
Migrants intercepted and returned to Libya are usually held in detention centres, where, human rights organisations, say the detainees live in appalling conditions and where they suffer abuses.
“Hundreds of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were brought back into a cycle of exploitation and abuse that they were trying to flee,” Ms Msehli said.
IOM, once again, denounced the longstanding practice of interception and return in light of the documented exploitation that awaits returnees in Libyan custody.
“We reiterate that the system of arbitrary detention must be abolished,” she added.
According to IOM and UNHCR , almost 3,200 migrants are being held in eleven detention centres in Libya.
Since January, according to IOM data, around 10,000 people who tried to flee Libya have been intercepted and returned there by Libyan forces. Among them were 692 women and 556 minors. In comparison, 9,225 people were intercepted and returned in 2019.
Libya’s coast guard, trained and equipped by the EU, is in charge of the interception and returns. The controversial force, which principally aims to prevent migrants from reaching European soil, is reported to employ former militia members and has a record of abuses including torture.
Recorded deaths on the central Mediterranean route, meanwhile, show a reverse trend: While close to 1,000 migrants perished last year, 573 have succumbed to the same fate so far this year. IOM warns that the real number of fatalities may be much higher.
Libya has been in chaos since the violent overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi by NATO-supported rebels in 2011. For years, human traffickers have taken advantage of the volatile situation, thus turning the country into a key corridor for migrants fleeing war and poverty in a desperate bid to reach Europe.