IRC: Record Numbers of Migrants Intercepted at Sea and Detained in Libya in 2021


On Friday, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that over 23,000 people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya in just the past eight months after trying to reach safety in Europe.

In a statement, the IRC added that this is almost double the total for the whole of 2020 and the highest number on record since interceptions by the Libyan Coast Guard began in 2017.

The committee noted that the total includes more than 1,000 children and over 1,500 women – at least 68 of whom were pregnant.

It added, that “when the Libyan Coast Guard first began carrying out European Union (EU)-funded interceptions in 2017, a total of 15,358 people were brought back to shore. This number decreased year after year to a low of around 9,000 in 2019, but in 2020 the numbers spiked once again to 11,891 – and this year it has already surpassed the 2017 total. However, no one should be returned to Libya after being rescued at sea. Under international maritime law, people rescued at sea should be disembarked at a place of safety.”

The IRC called for further support from the international community to address the situation in Libya and other countries of origin that drive people to seek a better life – such as conflict, COVID-19 and climate change, as well as human rights abuses, food insecurity and economic reasons.

On his part, Tom Garofalo, the IRC’s Country Director in Libya, said, that “in just eight months we’ve seen more people brought back to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard than we have ever witnessed before. 23,000 is an unprecedented number and it highlights the ongoing severity of the situation in Libya. A decade of violence and unrest, a struggling economy and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the challenges faced by all those living in the country. Today, an estimated 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – a 40% increase compared to 2020.”

“To send people who have risked their lives and been through so much already to detention centres in Tripoli – where the abuses they were trying to escape are also rampant – is not only a violation of their human rights, it is also inhumane. Conditions in these facilities are too often deplorable, with many lacking access to health care and clean drinking water. Women and children are especially vulnerable – strip searches by male guards have been repeatedly documented and children are not separated from adults when it comes to sleeping arrangements. They need protection, everyone needs that. But they do not get it in detention. All detainees must urgently be released and upon release, it is vital that they are provided with access to the support, such as healthcare and counseling, that they so desperately need,” he concluded.