Libya's coast guard has reportedly intercepted more than 430 Europe-bound migrants in the past week. The UN has meanwhile voiced alarm over the escalating situation in the country and how it affects migrants and refugees.
According to a statement by Libya's coast guard, a total of 284 migrants were picked up in four separate operations off the Libyan coast, near the towns of Zawya, Garabulli, Abu-Kemmash, and the Libyan capital, Tripoli last Wednesday.
In a separate statement, the coast guard added that it had intercepted another boat with 99 migrants on board off the town of Khoms on Thursday. Among those migrants was a pregnant woman who later gave birth on the coast guard vessel. The woman and her baby were taken to a hospital in the town of Khoms once they were returned to Libya.
A sixth boat carrying 50 migrants was also stopped off Khoms on Friday, according to the coast guard. The majority of the migrants have been handed over to authorities in Tripoli and taken to detention centers.
UN worries for situation of migrants in Libya
The UN has voiced concern at the recent rise in migrant boats departing from Libya. The International Organization for Migration said in a statement last Thursday that in the span of 48 hours, a total of "at least nine boats carrying more than 600 migrants have been discovered on the central Mediterranean route."
IOM spokeswoman Safa Msehli said five of the nine boats had been rescued by ships operated by two NGOs - Ocean Viking and Open Arms - and four others were sent back to Libya. Meanwhile a tenth boat, with 74 people on board, reached the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.
The statement highlighted the fact that "this apparent spike in departures" came as Tripoli and the surrounding areas face renewed heavy shelling as part of the ongoing civil war in the country.
"IOM is deeply concerned about the safety of migrants who are vulnerable to clashes, human trafficking and abuse as the security situation further deteriorates," the agency's chief of mission in Libya, Federico Soda, said in a statement.
"Libya is not a safe port; there is a need for a predictable and safe disembarkation mechanism for migrants fleeing violence and abuse," he added.
Chaos continues in Libya
The country was plunged into chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya is being contested by a separate administration in the east, backed by Libya warlord Khalifa Haftar. Haftar launched an offensive on the government on April 4 with his self-proclaimed Libyan National Army to take the capital.
Hundreds of migrants stuck in Libya are assumed to have been captured or died as part of the ongoing clashes, as many thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have arrived in Libya in recent years in hopes of eventually reaching Europe.
The EU has partnered with Libya's coast guard in a bid to stem the rate of the dangerous sea crossings; Libyan authorities including the country's coast guard, however, have repeatedly come under attack for allegations of human rights abuses, especially once they bring the migrants back to Libyan territory.
Various rights groups say that the migrants are often kept in squalid conditions in detention centers, where they suffer abuse at the hands of armed groups. At least 6,000 migrants are known to presently be kept in those facilities which are run by militias who have repeatedly been accused of torture, slavery, rape and other abuses in the past two years.
with AFP, AP