UN agency: Libyan navy intercepts over 800 EU-bound migrants

The U.N. migration agency says hundreds of Europe-bound migrants have been intercepted in the Mediterranean sea off Libya’s coasts and taken into detention in the last 24 hours

CAIRO -- Hundreds of Europe-bound migrants were intercepted in the Mediterranean sea off Libya's coasts and taken into detention over the last 24 hours, the U.N. migration agency said Friday.

The International Organization for Migration tweeted that more than 1,000 migrants have recently departed from Libya's shores, escaping “dire humanitarian conditions.” Over 800 of them were stopped by the Libyan coast guard and sent to the North African country's notorious detention centers, the IOM said.

In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

The IOM posted photographs of mostly African migrant men waiting at disembarkation points in Libya and speaking to IOM staff.

“While IOM teams continue to provide assistance at disembarkation points, we maintain that Libya is not a safe port,” tweeted the IOM.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.

On Jan. 19, a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and at least 43 people drowned. The tragedy marked the first maritime disaster in 2021 involving migrants seeking better lives in Europe. The IOM had cited survivors as saying that the dead were all men from West African nations.