In one week, a total of 493 migrants from sub-Saharan, Arab and Asian countries were collected by Libya's controversial coast guard. They are now in four detention centers in and around Tripoli that are known for overcrowded, inhumane and insecure conditions.
Libya's often criticized coast guard said late on Thursday it had picked up 493 migrants on six inflatable boats in as many operations in a week. The migrants were taken aboard in the Mediterranean Sea in areas northeast and northwest of the capital Tripoli.
The migrants, including 28 women and five children, are from sub-Saharan, Arab and Asian countries. They were all moved to detention centers run by the UN-backed Government of National Accord, coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.
Libya's western coast is a main departure point for migrants fleeing war and poverty and hoping for new lives in Europe.
The number of crossings, however, has dropped sharply since July 2017 following a deal between Italy's then center-left government with Libya that aimed at turning back vessels and return migrants to Libya.
Having intercepted some 20,000 people in 2017 alone, Libya's EU-funded and trained coast guard has been the bloc's preferred partner to prevent migrants from reaching European soil ever since - despite its record of abuses.
According to coast guard spokesperson Ayoub Qassem, the 493 migrants were reportedly taken to various detention centers: 173 to Komas, some 120 kilometers east of Tripoli; 166 to Tripoli; 50 to Zawiya and 104 to Zuwarah, both of which are smaller towns west of Tripoli.
No word from Tajoura
It is unclear whether any were taken to the controversial Tajoura detention center on the outskirts of Tripoli, where an airstrike in June killed 53 migrants, including six children. The center is suspected of stockpiling and even producing weapons, using forced labor by migrants.
The civil war between the UN-backed official government and forces led by eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar has created a hostile environment for migrants.
According to UN agencies, the conditions for migrants held in Libya's detention centers are overcrowded, inhumane and insecure.
Sudanese migrant shot after being returned to Libya
Earlier on Thursday, a Sudanese migrant died at the Abu Sittah naval base in Tripoli from a bullet wound, hours after being returned to shore by Libya's coast guard.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said its staff had been on site at the Abusitta disembarkation point in Tripoli when as many as 103 migrants returned to shore resisted being sent back to Libyan detention centers.
In an online statement, UN spokesman Leonard Doyle called the incident a "tragedy waiting to happen" and called for finding "alternatives to detention." There was no immediate comment on the incident from the coast guard.
Libya plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.
with material from Reuters