Libyan coast guards have intercepted 71 migrants including women and children and returned them to the Libyan capital Tripoli, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
The migrants were stopped late Wednesday, according to the IOM, and the group of 71 people included four women and two children.
Both the IOM and the UN refugee agency UNHCR tweeted about their return to Tripoli port and announced the migrants had been provided with food and medical assistance. The UNHCR added that the migrants would "most likely spend the night at the port," which the organization considers "not safe."
So far this year, nearly 5,000 migrants hoping to reach Europe by crossing the central Mediterranean by boat have been intercepted and returned by Libya's coast guard. That's according to a statement by IOM Libya spokesperson Safa Msehli, who also added that the migrants were "arbitrarily detained" after their return.
The IOM earlier this month also announced that the estimated number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean had passed the "grim milestone" of 20,000 since 2014, according to news agency Associated Press.
Coast guard financed by EU
Libya is a major transit country for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe. Smuggling and human trafficking networks in Libya are rife, pandered by the dysfunctional judiciary structures and years of war and disarray that followed the ouster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The EU has partnered with Libyan forces in recent years to slow the flow of migrants headed to Europe. As part of this effort, the EU supports the Libyan coast guard with training and financing -- a collaboration that aid groups have harshly criticized. Migrants intercepted and returned to Libya by the coast guards are often left at the mercy of brutal armed groups or caught in detention centers in unsanitary conditions.
Earlier this week the French civil rescue organization SOS Mediterranee called on Germany and the European Union to stop working with the Libyan coast guard. The collaboration was a deliberate way of shunning responsibility, and the EU was turning a blind eye on human rights abuses, chairwoman Laura Gorriahn said at a symposium in Berlin.
With AP, epd