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

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.


Morocco reimposes Tangiers lockdown after virus spike

Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Morocco reimposes Tangiers lockdown after virus spike

RABAT: Morocco on Monday announced a return to lockdown measures in the northern port city of Tangiers to smother a new outbreak of the novel coronavirus, weeks after easing nationwide restrictions.
The city of about a million inhabitants was locked down from Monday at noon local time, with public transport suspended, cafes and public spaces closed and movement restricted.
Residents are only allowed to leave their homes “in cases of extreme necessity,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that “exceptional authorization from local authorities” would be required for movement within or beyond the city.
Authorities decided to reimpose the measures to “prevent the spread of the virus” after “new infection clusters” appeared, it said.
The northern city, within sight of the Spanish coast on a clear day, has a vast port and is a key economic hub linking Africa with Europe and beyond.
Morocco had imposed strict nationwide lockdown measures after recording its first COVID-19 cases in March.
It began easing them in June and has since reopened cafes and restaurants, allowing domestic visitors to restart its vital tourism sector.
Its borders remain closed until further notice, except to Moroccans and residents abroad, who will be able to return from Tuesday onwards.
But despite masks being mandatory in public, new localized outbreaks of the disease have forced the shutdown of several cities.
An outbreak at a fish canning factory prompted authorities to lock down Safi, a town of 300,000 on the Atlantic coast, in early July.
The kingdom, with a population of 34 million, has recorded over 15,000 infections including 253 deaths.