IOM: 500 Migrants Returned to Libya

IOM: 500 Migrants Returned to Libya
IOM: 500 Migrants Returned to Libya

Nearly 500 migrants who tried to cross the central Mediterranean have been brought back to Libya, a spokesman for the UN Migration Agency (IOM) said on Friday. This comes two days after charity groups lost contact with the boat carrying them, according to Reuters.

“Libya is an unsafe port where migrants should never be brought back,” Flavio Di Giacomo, a Spokesman for IOM wrote on Twitter.

He said that there were 485 migrants docked in the port of Benghazi on Friday. No further details were provided to IOM at this stage.

Alarm Phone, a group that picks up calls from migrant vessels in distress, had no signs from the boat since Wednesday morning.

At the time, the boat was adrift, with no working engine, in high seas about 320 km (200 miles) north of Libya, and more than 400 km away from Malta or Italy’s southern island of Sicily.

The Italian Coast Guard reported on Thursday the rescue of 423 and 671 migrants in two separate operations in Italian search and rescue waters. Alarm Phone noted they were unrelated to the missing boat. The Italian coast guard had no immediate comment.

In a separate incident, German charity SOS Humanity said 27 migrants were picked up at sea by an oil tanker, and illegally taken back to Libya.

Under international humanitarian law, migrants cannot be forcibly returned to countries where they risk serious ill-treatment and widespread migrant abuse has been extensively documented in Libya.

European governments have taken an increasingly hard line on migration, including in Italy, which is facing a surge in sea arrivals.

More than 47,000 landings have been recorded in the year to date, up from around 18,000 in the same period of 2022.

Last month, Alert Phone reported that a boat with over 400 people was drifting between Malta and Libya, and taking in water. It claimed to have received a call from the boat that left Tobruk, and contacted the appropriate authorities.

Those on board were “terrified, and several of them needed medical help,” according to Alarm Phone. In addition, the “skipper had left and no one was left to guide the boat, which was out of gasoline and had a full bottom deck.”

Earlier in April, 440 migrants were rescued off Malta, after a complex 11-hour operation in stormy seas by the Geo Barents vessel of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) NGO. At least 23 African migrants were missing, and four died after their two boats sank off Tunisia, while attempting to reach Italy.

During the rescue effort, they discovered 25 bodies in the water, and were able to save 22 people, as well as recover two bodies, they tweeted. Resqship stated that their crew had been informed that 20 or so others had already drowned.

Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The county has for years been split between rival administrations, each backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.