Around 500 migrants to Europe intercepted off Libya



ON BOARD GEO BARENTS (AP) – The Libyan coast guard on Sunday intercepted a wooden boat carrying around 500 migrants bound for Europe off the coast of the country, the United Nations refugee agency said.

It was the latest interception at sea amid an increase in crossings and attempted crossings from the North African nation to European shores in recent months. It took place two days after a massive crackdown on migrants in a town in western Libya that resulted in at least 4,000 migrants being rounded up.

Libya has become the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, in the hope of a better life in Europe. The trend developed after the country was plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that overthrew and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Human traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos in the oil-rich country and smuggled migrants across the country’s long border with six nations. They then embark desperate migrants in ill-equipped rubber dinghies for risky journeys on the perilous route of the central Mediterranean.

The migrants from Sunday’s interception were disembarked at an oil refinery in the western town of Zawiya, a major departure point for migrants, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. They include Sudanese, Somalis, Bengalis and Syrians, he said.

The migrants were probably taken to a detention center as Libyan authorities generally do with intercepted migrants.

On Saturday, the Libyan coast guard intercepted around 90 migrants, including eight women and three children, and returned them to Tripoli, the UN agency said. The coast guard also recovered the bodies of two migrants, while 40 others remain missing at sea, the agency said.

There has been a peak in crossings and attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea with the aim of reaching European soil. So far this year, some 44,000 people have reached European shores crossing the central Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya.

As of September 25, more than 25,000 people had been intercepted this year by EU-trained and equipped Libyan coast guards and returned to the war-torn country, according to the United Nations Migration Agency.

More than 1,100 migrants have been reported dead or presumed dead off Libya in the first nine months of 2021.



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