Pictures from Sea Watch appear to show a Libyan coast guard vessel alongside the Vos Triton in the Mediterranean | Source: Sea-Watch Twitter
Pictures from Sea Watch appear to show a Libyan coast guard vessel alongside the Vos Triton in the Mediterranean | Source: Sea-Watch Twitter

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency UNHCR issued a joint statement on June 16 condemning the return of over 270 migrants to the Libyan coast guard.

In their statement, the organizations confirmed that over 270 migrants and refugees were handed over to the Libyan coast guard by the ship Vos Triton, sailing under the flag of Gibraltar.

The Vos Triton had rescued the group in international waters during their attempt to reach the European coast on June 14. On June 15, the Libyan coast guard returned them to the main port of Tripoli, from where they were taken into detention by the Libyan authorities.

"According to International Maritime Law, people rescued at sea must be brought to a port of safety. Libya is not considered a safe port due to the absence of a chain of protection post disembarkation, arbitrary detention and the widespread human rights violations against migrants in the country, documented by the UN," said IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli, speaking with InfoMigrants.

"The group, according to our information, was rescued by a commercial vessel in international waters, MRCCs in the region should coordinate an immediate disembarkation in a safe port, according to state obligations."

"While the Libyan coast guard operates theoretically in its internationally recognized maritime rescue region and territorial waters, we have documented cases in past where people were returned to Libya from international waters which can amount to a violation of international law including the principle of non-refoulement," continued Msehli.

Also read: Accusations of 'illegal pushbacks' leveled at supply ship Vos Triton in Mediterranean

2021 is already breaking tragic records. The Libyan coast guard has returned more than 13,000 people to Libya this year, already surpassing the number of people intercepted or rescued and disembarked in all of 2020. Hundreds of others have perished at sea.

Migrants and refugees who are disembarked in Libya often find themselves in appalling conditions and at risk of exposure to abuse and extortion. Others simply disappear, raising very real fears that they may have been abducted into human trafficking networks.

"We have no authority over the detention system in Libya, in fact our access in increasingly restricted, and we are not operational at sea, but we continue to advocate with the international community and the Libyan authorities to dismantle the system of arbitrary detention, prosecute trafficking and smuggling networks that are putting people’s lives at risk and providing safeguards for migrants in the country," said Msehli.

"International law obligations are binding to states and states have the responsibility to ensure legal and human rights frameworks are upheld and respected."

"IOM and UNHCR call for an end to arbitrary detention in Libya, through the establishment of a judicial review process, and advocate for alternatives to detention starting with the immediate release of the most vulnerable."


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