Major rise in migrants stopped off Libya: UNHCR

CAIRO (AP) — The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Friday that the total number of migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in the past month rose 121 per cent from the same period last year.

The UNHCR said in January alone, it registered 1,040 refugees and migrants the coast guard stopped and brought back to Libyan shores, a dramatic increase from the 469 rescued that month in 2019. It classified the population as 70 per cent men, 18 per cent women and 12 per cent children.

The relentless war in Libya has turned the country into a major conduit for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

In its attempts to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the European Union (EU) has trained and funded Libya’s coast guard to keep the migration crisis off its shores.

The figures show these efforts have not stopped people from boarding boats and making the journey.

It’s a contentious alliance. The coast guard catches and returns migrants to Libya, where they often land in squalid detention centres, notorious for abuse and torture at the hands of militias. Migrants have told The Associated Press (AP) that they were extorted and abused at facilities run by the Interior Ministry of Libya’s west-based government.

Last week, the UNHCR halted its operations at its Gathering and Departure Facility, which was intended as an alternative to detention but was overrun by migrants fleeing other Libyan-run centres. AP documented the dangerous and dehumanising conditions at the facility last year.

The agency reported it continues to evacuate migrants to “safer locations” adding that over 300 had agreed to resettle into the “urban community” with aid packages.

The facility’s closing comes as fighting has intensified around the capital Tripoli.

File photo shows Turkish forces approaching migrants aboard a dinghy in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. PHOTO: AP