The migrants have returned to Libyan soil and are likely to be held in detention centers criticized by rights groups.
The Libyan coast guard has intercepted more than 80 migrants bound for Europe in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the North African country, the United Nations migration agency said.
The migrants have been returned to Libyan soil and will most likely be held in dire conditions in detention centers for which Libya has become famous, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday.
“So far this year, some 300 people, including women and children, have been returned to the country and found themselves in detention,” IOM said. “We reaffirm that no one should be returned to Libya.”
IOM posted photos on Twitter showing staff members interviewing mostly African migrants at a Libyan wharf.
It was the second interception off Libya in as many days. Late Thursday, IOM said the Libyan navy returned 86 other migrants, including seven women and 19 children, to Libya, who had been intercepted earlier in the Mediterranean.
🚨 Today, more than 80 migrants have been returned to Libya by the coast guard.
So far this year, some 300 people, including women and children, have been returned to the country and found themselves in detention.
We reaffirm that no one should be returned to Libya. pic.twitter.com/NnicqTB8sK
– IOM Libya (@IOM_Libya) January 22, 2021
In the years since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi, war-torn Libya has become the main transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Smugglers often embark desperate families in ill-equipped inflatable boats that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route.
On Tuesday, a boat carrying migrants to Europe capsized in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, and at least 43 people drowned. The tragedy marked the first maritime disaster in 2021 involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
IOM had quoted survivors as saying the dead were all men from West African countries.
In recent years, the EU has partnered with the Libyan Coast Guard and other local groups to stem these dangerous sea crossings.
Rights groups, however, say these policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or are confined in squalid detention centers, rife with abuse.
Also on Friday, SOS Mediterranee tweeted its rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, found and rescued two inflatable boats in distress, carrying 140 people, including women and children. Earlier, Alarm Phone, a hotline for migrants, tweeted that the two boats had taken off from the Libyan coast.
The team#OceanViking rescued around 140 people aboard two inflatable boats in distress. Operations began at dawn. Many young children and women are among the survivors. #TogetherForRescue pic.twitter.com/D486oD0nf0
– SOS MEDITERRANEE France (@SOSMedFrance) January 22, 2021
Translation: The #OceanViking team rescued 140 people aboard two distressed inflatable boats. Operations began at dawn. Children and women were among the survivors.