UN: Libyan coast guard intercepts 71 Europe-bound migrants

USA World

CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s coast guard intercepted 71 migrants hoping to make it to Europe, including four women and two children, and returned them to the capital Tripoli, the U.N. migration organization said Thursday.

The International Organization for Migration tweeted that the migrants, who were stopped late Wednesday, were given food and emergency assistance by its staffers. The tweet was accompanied by pictures, one of them showing an African man speaking to two IOM staffers.

Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.

Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. The IOM said earlier this month that 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 the coast guard and other Libyan forces to stop the flow of migrants.

Rights groups say those efforts have left migrants at the mercy of brutal armed groups or confined in squalid and overcrowded detention centers that lack adequate food and water.

The EU agreed earlier this year to end an operation against migrant smuggling involving only surveillance aircraft and instead deploy military ships to concentrate on upholding a widely flouted U.N. arms embargo that’s considered key to winding down Libya’s relentless war.

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