Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, chaos-hit Libya has become a key point of departure for migrants heading to Europe.
A navy official said Wednesday thatLibya’s coastguard rescued nearly 300 migrants including dozens of women and children from unseaworthy boats as they tried to reach Europe. The migrants, of different African nationalities, were plucked from two rubber dinghies without engines and brought back to the Tripoli naval base. They were given food and medical attention before being transferred to a detention center, the official added.
The UN refugee agency said more than 20,000 migrants, including pregnant women and babies, were being held either in detention centers or by traffickers, warning of abuse “on a shocking scale”.
Nearly 150,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the United Nations, and at least 2,826 others have died making the journey.
Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300km away. But migrant arrivals in Italy have dropped 69% since July, the European country said this week, as a deal with Libya blocks boats and would-be asylum seekers use other routes into Europe.
While the number landing in Italy is down by 30% compared with last year, arrivals in Spain, meanwhile, have more than tripled, with over 14 000 arrivals this year.