Almost 500 migrants brought back to Libya after foiled attempts to reach Italy

In this photo taken on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, a Sea-Watch ship approaches a dinghy boat to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Almost 500 migrants brought back to Libya after foiled attempts to reach Italy

  • 473 migrants returned to Libya since Saturday -coastguard
  • Already 203 have drowned in Mediterranean this year

TRIPOLI/GENEVA: The United Nations criticised European countries on Tuesday for not allowing migrants to disembark at safe ports, as Libya's coastguard said almost 500 migrants trying to reach Italy by inflatables had been brought back to the North African country.
The 473 people found trying to cross the Mediterranean on inflatables in different rescue operations since Saturday included some who were rescued by a cargo ship, coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.
U.N. aid agencies had earlier condemned the transfer of migrants to Libyan detention centres in which they often face abuse, lack of medical care, rape or forced labour, according to 61-page U.N. report in December.
"In Libya's current context, where outbreaks of violence and widespread human rights violations prevail, no rescued refugees and migrants should be returned there," Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told a briefing.
Qassem said Tuesday's figures included more than 140 migrants rescued at sea by the 'Lady Sham' cargo ship, whom the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said were brought to the western city of Misrata and then to a detention centre.
Four people with burns were taken to hospital, while two others other died after having spent 24 hours at sea, Qassem said. The migrants were from different sub-Saharan and Arab countries and included nine children and 25 women.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) denounced "politicking around sea rescues" by European states that have restricted aid groups from conducting missions. More than 200 have already drowned in January and 4,507 have reached Europe by sea despite "bitter cold and great danger", Yaxley said.
Libya’s western shores are the main departure point for thousands of migrants mainly from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty and conflict trying to reach Europe.
But since July 2017, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under an Italy-backed deal with local authorities in a former smuggling hub of Sabratha town in western Libya.
The coast guard has stepped up patrols after receiving new boats from Italy as part of efforts by the right-wing government there to stop migrants reaching Italian shores from Africa.
Migrants are bought to overcrowded detention centres that are formally under the control of the Interior Ministry but in reality are run by armed groups.


Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

Updated 19 February 2019
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Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

  • The blast also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen
  • Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability

CAIRO: Two police officers were killed when a terror suspect blew himself up after he was surrounded by police near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo on Monday.

The blast in the crowded Darb Al-Ahmar district also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen, the interior ministry said.

“As security surrounded the man and was set to arrest and control him, an explosive device in his possession went off,” the ministry said in a press statement.

The explosion took place after police chased the suspect who they believe had planted a bomb near a security staff close to a mosque in Giza on Friday, the statement said. Security officers had been able to defuse that device.

Monday’s explosion that took place near Al Azhar mosque at the heart of ancient Islamic Cairo damaged several shops.

“My shop’s front and windows were destroyed,” said Kareem Sayed Awad, a barbershop owner. “Not only that, but people have died. This is a tourist area and such incidents affect it.”

Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability that has hit the country in the years following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

In December three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide died when a homemade bomb exploded on their bus on the outskirts of Cairo, near the famed pyramids in Giza.

Authorities have been seeking to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and bolstering security around archaeological sites and in airports.

Tourism has slowly started picking up. The official statistics agency says tourist arrivals in Egypt in 2017 reached 8.3 million, up from 5.3 million the year before.

But that figure was still far short of the record influx in 2010 when over 14 million visitors flocked to the country.

Egypt has also for years been battling an Islamist insurgency, which deepened following military’s ousting of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.

The attacks have been mainly concentrated in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula but have also spread to the mainland.

In February 2018, security forces launched a major anti-militant operation focused on the Sinai Peninsula, aimed at wiping out a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

On Saturday, an attack on an Egyptian army checkpoint in north Sinai left 15 soldiers dead or wounded and seven of the suspected jihadist assailants killed, according to the military.
 

(With AFP)