A photo showing a previous group of about 500 migrants being brought back into the port of Misrata in Libya | Photo: Archive / EPA / Stringer
A photo showing a previous group of about 500 migrants being brought back into the port of Misrata in Libya | Photo: Archive / EPA / Stringer

98 Europe-bound migrants who were rescued by a commercial ship flying a Portuguese flag have been returned to Libya via the Libyan navy. The return was confirmed by the IOM.

The 98 migrants, attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe, were picked up by the Portuguese-flagged commercial ship MS Anne on Monday, May 25. According to the Portuguese news agency Lusa, the boat had been on a route between Malta and Libya. After spending two nights aboard the MS Anne, they were returned to Libya via the Libyan navy late on Wednesday night.

According to the Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the IOM team in Libya was present as they arrived on Libyan soil to provide "needed assistance."

Taken to a detention center

Earlier in the week, another UN spokesperson, who has also worked in Libya, Safa Msehli, spoke out about the policy of returning migrants to Libya. She underlined, once again, that the country is not considered a "safe port" by international organizations.

She said that the migrants were taken to "a detention center." The organization Alarm Phone called the detention center a "torture camp" and say the migrants should have been "brought to safety in Europe."

They call the operation a "push back by proxy," and reiterate their criticism of the EU's policy which sliced the Western Mediterranean into several different search and rescue regions -- or SARS. One of these is controlled from the Italian capital Rome, one from the Maltese capital Valletta and one by the UN-backed Libyan government.

'Strictly complied with regulations'

Citing the Portuguese foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva, Lusa reports that the MS Anne was ordered by the Maltese authorities to pick up the migrants, and later told to hand them over to the Libyan navy. The migrants ended up being disembarked in Misrata on the Libyan coast late on Wednesday evening.

The news agency Reuters reported that Santos Silva said that the actions of the MS Anne had "strictly complied with regulations." Lusa added that the boat had become "involuntarily involved" in the drama and had simply followed Malta's orders. According to Silva, the boat had carried out all its international obligations -- to save lives at sea.

This latest group of returnees joins around 400 who were returned to Libya on Monday.

Last month, Italy declared its own ports unsafe for migrants, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Malta too has closed its ports. Both countries have recently provided ferries and cruise ships moored off-shore as alternatives for migrants who make it to their ports.

During the pandemic, many of the private rescue organizations have suspended their operations at sea. The latest EU mission Irini mission, as well as various coast guard vessels, are however patrolling the busy waters.


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