Libyan coastguard boat carrying around 500 migrants, mostly African, arriving at the port in the city of Misrata | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER
Libyan coastguard boat carrying around 500 migrants, mostly African, arriving at the port in the city of Misrata | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER

Libyan authorities shot dead three Sudanese migrants in a coastal town when they tried to escape after they were returned to Libya by coast guards, the UN migration agency said Tuesday. Over 6,500 migrants have reportedly been intercepted and brought back to Libya this year.

Three Sudanese migrants were killed on Monday after being intercepted and brought back to Libya by the country's coast guard, the United Nations (UN) said Tuesday.

According to Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the three were among over 70 Europe-bound migrants who were returned late Monday to the coastal city of Khoms in northern Libya.

Khoms is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Tripoli. Most of the migrants in the group are from Sudan.

Initially, two deaths were reported at the site of the shooting, a disembarkation point for returned migrants where IOM staff provides emergency assistance in case of a rescue or an interception.

A third migrant died on the way to the hospital, UN refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday afternoon. According to IOM, two other migrants were wounded and were taken to local hospitals while survivors were moved to detention.

"The suffering of migrants in Libya is intolerable," IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda said in an online statement from Tuesday.

"The use of excessive violence results yet again in the senseless loss of life, amid a lack of action to change a system that often fails to provide any degree of protection."

UNHCR urges investigation

IOM further said "local authorities started shooting when the migrants attempted to escape from said disembarkation point."

UNHCR on Tuesday called for an investigation into the incident, which "underlines starkly that Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation.

Last week, an Eritrean asylum seeker died after arriving at the UN refugee center in Tripoli from a trafficking center in Bani Walid in the northwest, according to UNHCR.

According to IOM, more than 6,500 migrants have been picked up by the Libyan authorities and returned to Libya since the beginning of the year. Charities report their rescue ships are often out-run by Libyan coast guard vessels so that they can take the migrants back.

Long-standing criticism

Both IOM and UNHCR as well as rights groups have repeatedly called for ending the practice of returning migrants to Libya, saying that many migrants are sent to squalid and overcrowded detention centers that lack adequate food and water.

Many are sent to detention centers where the cycle of imprisonment, mistreatment 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.

Earlier this year, the EU agreed to end its anti-trafficking operation "Sophia," which only involved surveillance aircraft after its vessels were grounded due to a migration dispute among member states last year.

The current naval mission, codenamed "Irini," was launched by the EU in April to enforce an international arms embargo against Libya with military ships.

Major transit country

Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. During the civil war, which has been ravaging the country since 2014, turmoil in western Libya adversely affected migrants in the country.

Over the past few years, the north African nation has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.

Most migrants make the dangerous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. Earlier this year, IOM said its estimated death toll among migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean passed the "grim milestone'' of 20,000 deaths since 2014.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya's controversial coast guard and other Libyan forces to prevent migrants from reaching European soil.

With material from AP, AFP


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