Libyan coast guard intercepts packed migrant boat

Migrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli after they were rescued by Libyan Navy on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2017
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Libyan coast guard intercepts packed migrant boat

TRIPOLI/ROME: Libya’s European-backed coast guard on Saturday turned back more than 150 migrants trying to reach Italy by boat amid its heightened efforts to block such crossings of the Mediterranean.
The migrants, packed into a single rubber boat, were intercepted off the coast between the towns of Al-Khoms and Garabulli, east of Tripoli, after traveling through the night.
The boat was close to an Italian coast guard ship patrolling in international waters when they were cut off and taken aboard a Libyan vessel, dashing their hopes of reaching Europe. The rubber boat was being rocked by heavy waves and the motor had cut out.
“We were shouting, ‘they are blocking us, they are blocking us’. We were crying, pleading for help,” said Patrice Emani, a 27-year-old from Mali.
He said he was making his second attempted crossing from Libya. He was detained in the western Libyan city of Zawiya earlier this year, but his family paid for him to be released.
The captain of the Libyan ship that returned the migrants to Tripoli port, Col. Abdelhamid Adengouz, said they had been rescued from drowning in rough conditions, with cooperation from Italy.
“The migrants were saved from death,” he said. “There was an Italian ship present that helped us.”
A large majority of migrants traveling to Europe by sea depart from western Libya, where people smuggling has flourished amid lawlessness and a collapsing economy.
But there has been a sharp drop in departures since July due to armed factions preventing boats from leaving parts of the coast and increased activity from Libyan coast guard units, which have received training and technical support from Italy and the EU.
Human rights groups have criticized European policy, saying no migrants should be returned to a country where they face widespread abuse.
After migrants are brought back to Libya, they are registered by international agencies before being taken to overcrowded detention centers. Some are offered the chance to return home, while others languish in detention or seek a way out.
Most of those intercepted on Saturday were from West African countries, including Mali, Guinea, and Nigeria, and some were from Bangladesh. All but one were male.
They said they had paid between 1,500 and 3,000 Libyan dinars ($176-$353 at unofficial market rates) to make the crossing.
“I suffered a lot — kidnappings, demands for ransom,” said Christopher Daniel, a 20-year-old Nigerian. “They blindfolded me and forced me to give them money,” he said of a period he spent in captivity in the southern city of Sabha last year.
“I don’t know what to say or do. All the money I have wasted — what will I tell my parents?”
All-female victims
The bodies of 26 women who drowned attempting the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe were brought to Italy on Sunday, where investigators launched a murder inquiry.
A seemingly endless line of black plastic body bags were lowered by crane from a Spanish ship onto the portside in Salerno, southern Italy, where they were placed in coffins and loaded onto waiting hearses.
Twenty-three of the women died on Friday after the inflatable dinghy they were traveling on sank, and their bodies were recovered by the Spanish ship Cantabria, which was operating as part of the EU anti-trafficking force Sophia.
A Sophia spokesman told AFP another three bodies had been discovered during other life-saving operations in the Mediterranean this week, and transferred to the Cantabria as it headed toward Italy with its grim cargo.
There was no immediate explanation as to why all the dead were women, though the crossing is riskier for them.


Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN: Merkel

Updated 2 min 23 sec ago
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Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN: Merkel

  • Germany's Merkel says Syria must be more secure before refugees return

BEIRUT: The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland can only happen in coordination with the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during her two-day visit to Lebanon.
Refugee returns have been a hot-button issue in Lebanon, a small country that has the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
“We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria, that will allow refugees to return to Syria,” Merkel told reporters on Friday, after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“I confirmed with officials that returns can only happen in agreement and talks with UN organizations,” she added.
Around 500 refugees left southern Lebanon earlier this year for Syria in a return organized between Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and several thousand have gone back to their homeland from towns around the border in recent years.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.
Lebanese officials have been increasingly calling for refugee returns with or without a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old crisis.
Merkel said it was “understandable” that the large refugee influx had caused tensions in Lebanon but expressed hope they could be resolved.
Her comments come at a rocky time for ties between Lebanon’s government and the UNHCR.
This month, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil ordered a halt to new residency permits for UNHCR’s foreign staff, accusing them of “intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily.”
The UN has said it hopes Bassil will rescind his decision. The rest of Lebanon’s government has not officially commented.

Hariri, who has been appointed for a third term as Lebanon’s premier, said his country was still seeking refugee returns “as quickly as possible.”
“The only permanent solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner,” he told reporters.
Merkel is also due to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday, before flying back to Germany where she faces intense pressure to curb migrant arrivals.

According to the UNHCR, more than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million are currently internally displaced.
The UN last week said it noted at least 920,000 displacements since the beginning of the year, the highest in that time frame in Syria’s war.
Aid groups have warned that heightened anti-refugee rhetoric and quieting battlefronts in Syria could lead government to force refugees out.