On Saturday, the Libyan Coast Guard announced that it had intercepted a vessel carrying at least 700 Europe-bound migrants off the eastern coast of the country.
In a statement, the Libyan Coast Guard said that it was one of the largest interceptions of migrants seeking to reach Europe via Libya. It noted that the boat was stopped on Friday evening close the Mediterranean town of Moura, 90 kilometers (56 miles) West of the eastern city of Benghazi.
It added that the migrants come from different nations and that those who illegally entered Libya would be deported to their home countries.
The Libyan Coast Guard posted images on Facebook showing a large, overcrowded vessel with most of those on board appearing to be young people.
In August last year, Italian military vessels aided a boat crammed with 539 migrants off the southern island of Lampedusa. The boat was launched from Libyan shores.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Human traffickers in recent years have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations.
The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages. Officials did not say what kind of vessel was found over the weekend.
Those who have been returned are taken to detention centres rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rape, and torture. The abuse often accompanies efforts to extort money from families before they are allowed to leave Libya on traffickers’ boats.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported 1,522 dead or missing migrants in the Mediterranean this year.
Overall, the IOM says 24,871 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014, with the real number believed to be even higher given the number of shipwrecks that are not reported.