Some of the migrants brought back to Khums by the Libyan coast guard | Photo: Reuters
Some of the migrants brought back to Khums by the Libyan coast guard | Photo: Reuters

Migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean are regularly being picked up by the Libyan authorities and returned to Libya. Charities report their rescue ships are often out-run by Libyan coast guards who beat them to take the migrants back. Nearly 500 migrants have been returned to Libya in recent days, according to the UN migration agency IOM.

"Last night 93 people were returned to Khums," tweeted the International Organization for Migration on Saturday, June 27. Six others died in the attempt to reach Europe, the agency added.

On Friday, June 26 a boat carrying migrants was reported in "acute distress" in the waters off the Libyan port of Misrata. The Ocean Viking vessel run by SOS Mediterranée spends “12 hours” looking for it, only to witness it being "intercepted by the Libyan coastguard […] and returned to Libya."

Six dead, one birth at sea

The boat in question reportedly had 93 people on board, including one woman who gave birth at sea. "Six [on board] reportedly died." According to the IOM tweet, all the 93 were "released after disembarkation." However, this is not always migrants' fate after they have been returned to Libya.

Many are sent to detention centers where the cycle of imprisonment, mis-treatment and extortion begins again, report UNHCR and IOM staff. Even if the migrants land in official centers, many are at risk of bombardment from the fighting between the UN-backed government in Tripoli and the opposition forces of General Haftar. Others have been recruited for the fighting itself.

'Intercepted and returned'

Just last week, the IOM confirmed that 71 migrants had also been "intercepted" and "returned to Libya."

Over the years, this has been the fate of many more migrants. Some of the pushback operations, claim charities and international organizations, are coordinated from the air by EU-funded planes.

In fact, Carola Rackete, the former captain of the migrant rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, accuses the EU border agency Frontex of being behind these kinds of coordinated pushbacks. In a statement, marking one year since she defied the Italian government's orders not to enter port and disembark the migrants on board her ship, Rackete said that the European Union had a "shameful record" when it came to Mediterranean sea migrants.

Rackete, quoted by dpa, called Frontex the enforce of a "racist border policy of European states." Rackete added that "different European states including Spain, Malta, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany continue to hinder rescue and monitoring missions at sea and in the air." Rackete said that was because European states want migrants "to drown, to scare those who might attempt to cross."

'An absolute disgrace'

According to the agency AFP, the current coordinator of the Ocean Viking rescue mission, Nicholas Romaniuk, said that "rescue ships are often out-run by the Libyan coast guard who beat them to intercept migrants and return them to Libya." Romaniuk said the Ocean Viking was about "an hour and a half from being nearby when the Libyan coast guard intervened."

The crew on board the Ocean Viking claimed on Twitter that they had been repeatedly told by the Maltese and the Italian authorities to coordinate with the Libyan authorities who "didn’t answer." Romaniuk told AFP that there was “no cordination, no information sharing for life saving operations. We’re talking about people who were reported to be dying, a newborn baby on board.”

He called the refusal to share information an "absolute disgrace." According to the IOM more than 100,000 have attempted to cross the Mediterranean in the last year alone. More than 1,200 are confirmed to have died in the attempt.

Libya: 'Not a place of safety'

The IOM reiterated on Twitter on June 26 that it was at a disembarkation point in Tripoli to assist those who had been brought back to Libya. It repeated that Libya was "not a place of safety."

In Tripoli, the organization said it was providing "emergency assistance to 270 migrants returned to shore by the Libyan coast guard." It said among them there were 13 women and 23 children.

In the early hours of Monday, June 29, the IOM tweeted the arrival of a further 184 migrants in Tripoli, including 14 women and 11 children. The IOM's chief of Mission Federico Soda on June 26 confirmed that in total "over 300" people had been returned to Libya in the last 48 hours. With the latest arrivals in Tripoli on Monday, the numbers would reach near 500. Soda said "while our staff provide emergency assistance upon disembarkation and in detention the safety of these people cannot be guaranteed." Soda added that "many [of those brought back to Libya] end up in the same cycle of abuse."


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