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Libyan coastguard rescues more than 250 migrants trying to reach Italy

The Libyan coastguard have been under fire for their mishandling of migrant rescue operations [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 December, 2017

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Migrants attempting to reach Italy have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, amid furore over plans to increase the Libyans' responsibility for migrant rescue operations.
Libya’s coastguard has rescued more than 250 migrants attempting to reach Italy by boat, officials said on Saturday.

The migrants, who were travelling in small boats, form part of a wave of people fleeing poverty and conflict, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. 
Libya’s western shores are the main departure point for these migrants to reach Europe.

Arrivals to Italy have fallen by two-thirds since July from the same period last year after officials working for the UN-backed government in Tripoli, Italy’s partner, managed to cut back human smuggling in the city of Sabratha west of the capital.

That has pushed the trade further east, with the coastguard intercepting several boats off the coast near Qaraboulli and Zliten, two towns located east of Tripoli.

“The naval forces’ Ibn Ouf vessel rescued (on Friday) illegal migrants including women, children and men ... they are from different sub-Saharan and Arab countries,” coastguard captain Abdulhadi Fakhal told Reuters.

“They were rescued off Qaraboulli and Zliten towns... and they are about 250 to 270 persons,” Fakhal said.

In 2017 alone, over 3,000 migrants have died while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, according to the Missing Migrants Project

The latest interception comes a day after it was reported by Reuters that Italy plan to hand over sea rescues to the Libyan coastguard. The Italian coastguard undertakes the vast majority of sea rescue operations currently, although Libya has been increasing its interceptions in the past year.

Migrants transiting through Libya are often subject to appalling conditions, including rape, torture and forced labour. The Libyans return all migrants, including refugees, to Libya even though the situation on the ground there is far from resolved.

We know that people intercepted at sea have then re-entered the circle of violence and imprisonment and abuse that they were fleeing

Rights groups and aid workers have slammed the move to partner with Libya’s poorly-trained coastguard, claiming it risks exposing migrants to drowning during rescues or to further rights abuses if sent back to detention centres inside Libya.

"From the testimony we hear from the migrants, we know that people intercepted at sea have then re-entered the circle of violence and imprisonment and abuse that they were fleeing," said Nicola Stalla, search-and-rescue chief for SOS Mediterranee, one of the charities still operating off Libya.

The Libyan coastguard has been accused of fatal mistakes in its handling of migrant rescue operations, and reportedly fires warning shots and close to charity rescue boats.

The Italian handover programme is to be staged over three years. It plans to help Libya declare a definitive search and rescue zone, and provide training and equipment to the Libyan coastguard.

Since the country's revolution in 2011, Libya has been ravaged by the ongoing civil war. Various armed factions have control over its sea ports and beaches, where human trafficking has become rife.

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