Rescued migrants stranded at sea, not allowed to any EU port

The U.N. migration agency says at least 78 migrants who fled war-torn Libya for Europe remain stuck at sea more than a day after their rescue by a commercial ship

CAIRO -- At least 78 migrants fleeing war-torn Libya for Europe remain stuck at sea without a designated port to dock, the U.N. migration agency said Monday.

Libya has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing conflict and poverty to Europe, following the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The migrants fled Libya three days ago and were rescued by a merchant vessel on Sunday in the Mediterranean Sea, said Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration.

The vessel carrying the migrants has still not received permission to dock at any port, Msehli said. She called on the European Union to establish a clear and safe disembarkation mechanism for people recused in the Mediterranean.

The boat was the fourth carrying migrants to depart Libya in less than a week, the IOM said. Along with the stranded vessel, one boat carrying 57 people reached harbor at the small island nation of Malta, where it was quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic, while a second boat with 68 migrants arrived at Italy’s island of Lampedusa and the third vessel was intercepted and returned to Libya with all 51 aboard.

Most migrants leaving Libya's coasts make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. The IOM's estimated death toll earlier this month among migrants who tried to cross the Mediterranean passed the “grim milestone” of 20,000 deaths since 2014.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the Libyan coast guard and other local forces to stop the flow of migrants.

Rights groups say those efforts have left migrants at the mercy of brutal armed groups or confined in squalid and overcrowded detention centers that lack adequate food and water.

The EU agreed earlier this year to end an anti-migrant smuggler operation involving only surveillance aircraft. The bloc will instead concentrate on trying to enforce a widely flouted U.N. arms embargo that’s considered key to winding down Libya’s relentless civil war.