Libyan Coast Guard returning migrants to Libya on May 10 2017 | Photo: Picture Alliance / AP Photo / M. Ben Khalifa
Libyan Coast Guard returning migrants to Libya on May 10 2017 | Photo: Picture Alliance / AP Photo / M. Ben Khalifa

The Libyan coast guard says it rescued 290 migrants from two rubber dinghies off the eastern coast of Tripoli on Friday. The migrants were returned to Libya and handed over to the country's "Anti-Illegal Migration Agency" while clashes in the capital Tripoli continue.

The migrants were clinging to inflatable rafts and were taken onboard coast guard vessels in two operations, naval forces spokesperson Ayizv Qassem told Reuters on Friday.

One raft with 87 migrants was intercepted near the coast off Qarabuli, a town 50 kilometers east of Tripoli.

Two other inflatable boats with 203 migrants were detected off Zliten, a town 160 kilometers east of the capital, according to Qassem.

"The illegal migrants were found clinging to shabby and broken boats. They were rescued by patrols of coastguards on two different vessels," said Qassem. 

In a statement, the coast guard said that they found a sinking rubber boat whose bottom had collapsed on Thursday, and that most migrants were in the water, hanging onto what was left of the boat, AP reports.

Libya considered not safe for migrants

The Libyan coast guard, which is part of Libya's Navy, returned the migrants to the mainland and handed them over to the authorities in charge of combatting irregular migration, the "Anti-Illegal Migration Agency".

The migrants were disembarked in the cities of Khomas and Janzur, Reuters reports. They hail from different Arab and sub-Saharan countries. Among them are seven women and one child.

The German aid group Sea-Watch on Twitter said that its aircraft Moonbird witnessed the operations, calling them "EU sanctioned and human rights-violating interceptions of two boats by the co-called Libyan Coast Guard." 

Libya is a main departure point for migrants headed to Europe. Human rights groups object to returning migrants to lawless Libya, citing reports of abuse, beating and other forms of torture. Earlier this week, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR urged European leaders to ensure the safety of migrants. 

"People rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean should, under no circumstances, be brought back to the detention camps in Libya," said Dominik Bartsch, the head of the UNHCR in Germany. "Any political leverage, including from the EU, must be used to end the suffering in the camps." 

The International Organization for Migration IOM also warns that migrants should not be sent back to Libya where the security situation continues to deteriorate.


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