An archive image of migrants waiting at the port in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA
An archive image of migrants waiting at the port in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA

Dozens of migrants fled the port of the Libyan capital Tripoli on Friday amidst shelling. Around 280 migrants were held there after Libyan coast guards intercepted them in their attempt to reach Europe by boat. Libya had classified its own ports unsafe and denied the landing.

After their failed crossing to Europe, dozens of migrants managed to flee the port of Tripoli where they were being held. According to the UN migration agency IOM, the migrants fled the port facility as it was being shelled early Friday morning.

The group were among 277 people aboard a vessel returned to the capital by the Libyan coast guard earlier last week. The migrants were denied disembarkation over security concerns and forced to stay onboard, IOM said.

Around 200 migrants from the group were apprehended by the authorities in their attempt to flee the port on Friday. They were transferred to two detention facilities – one being an investigation and data collection center managed by the interior ministry, the other being a facility "not officially recognized", IOM said in a press statement.

'End the return of migrants to Libya'

In light of previous reported disappearances of migrants apprehended and detained by Libyan authorities, the IOM says it "remains extremely concerned about the fate of those that are unaccounted for."

"We are at a breaking point,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda. “We have repeatedly raised the alarm over the situation in Libyan detention centres and appealed to the international community to end the return of migrants to Libya. The intensifying conflict coupled with the COVID-19 crisis are putting unprecedented pressure on migrants, displaced Libyans and those trying to assist them."

Attempts to flee Libya amidst coronavirus pandemic

Last week alone, more than 1,000 migrants left Libyan shores, 500 of which were intercepted and returned to Libya. That's according to Alarm Phone, the distress hotline for migrants in the Mediterranean, which has also raised the alarm over scores of migrants missing at sea.

Italy and Malta last week classified their ports as closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Libyan authorities announced Libyan ports to be unsafe for reasons of continued intense shelling, some of which previously targeted the Tripoli main port.
The 277 migrants returned to Tripoli on a coast guard vessel last week included women and children, the IOM said. The organization provided emergency assistance and supplied food and water to those on the vessel "amid increased shelling in the area". IOM stressed that assistance was further complicated due to a COVID-19 curfew in Tripoli.

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