During the past week Libyan coast guards intercepted more than 1,500 Europe-bound migrants, according to a non-governmental organization. UN officials and human rights advocates have denounced the return of migrants to Libya because they face violence and arbitrary detention.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) confirmed Wednesday that around 1,500 people had been picked up from boats off Libya’s western shores within one week.
"The Libyan coastguard has conducted several rescue operations from a week ago until (Wednesday) and rescued about 1,500 people," Adel al-Idrissi from the IRC told the news agency AFP.
Libyan authorities said that on Wednesday (February 10) alone, two boats with a total of 240 African migrants on board were intercepted off the port city of Al-Khums.
The UN migration agency IOM in Libya confirmed on Twitter that over 200 migrants had been intercepted and returned to Libya on Wednesday.
Images of migrants being returned to Al-Khums show women and children.
Some of the migrants picked up by coast guards on Wednesday reportedly resisted getting on the coast guard vessel. "We encountered difficulties in getting the (migrants from the first boat) on board," but the second group "showed less opposition," Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed Abdel Aali told AFP.
Migrants didn't want to return to Libya
Migrants intercepted by Libyan authorities off the North African coast often object to being returned to the country and prefer to wait for humanitarian rescue ships.
"Men, women and children taken back to Libya against their will," the head of Spanish rescue organization Open Arms, Oscar Camps, said on Twitter on Wednesday. Their rescue ship Astral was on its way to the location of a distress call, he said. But when the ship arrived, the migrants had already been picked up by the Libyan patrol boat Fezzan V658, Camps tweeted in a thread.
The UN migration agency IOM in its most recent update recorded 1,487 returns to Libya between February 2-8. Since the start of the year, the IOM recorded 1,956 returns, among them 185 women and 124 minors.
Returned to detention
International agencies and rights groups have repeatedly denounced the return of migrants to Libya, where many face violence and arbitrary detention.
Reports of rape, torture, forced labor and murder have all emerged from Libyan detention camps. Images smuggled out of these facilities show migrants detained under inhumane conditions.
Because of this, rights group have called on European countries to stop their collaboration with Libyan authorities on migration issues -- in particular, they want Italy and the EU to stop financing Libya's coast guard.
Despite its notorious reputation, Libya remains an important transit point for migrants fleeing instability in other parts of Africa, the Middle East or south-eastern Asia who hope to reach Europe.
The Mediterranean crossing remains one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. In January of this year, a shipwreck off Libya claimed more than 40 lives. IOM says that more than 1,200 migrants and asylum seekers died while crossing the Mediterranean in 2020.