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.


54 injured as Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah supporters clash in central Beirut

Updated 15 December 2019

54 injured as Lebanese security forces and Hezbollah supporters clash in central Beirut

  • Attackers threw stones and firecrackers at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets
  • The Internal Security Forces said at least 20 police were wounded, some of them badly

BEIRUT: Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Lebanese protesters in central Beirut on Saturday in clashes that went on into the night and wounded dozens of people.

Among the badly injured were policeman after Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters clashed with anti-government protesters, less than 32 hours before a key parliamentary meeting to nominate a new Lebanese leader.

Attackers threw stones and firecrackers at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

State news agency NNA said the tear gas made several people faint. The Lebanese Civil Defense said it treated 54 people for injuries, taking more than half to hospital.

The Internal Security Forces said at least 20 police were wounded.

Riot police took more than 90 minutes to contain the attackers in areas surrounding Riad El-Solh and Martyrs squares, forcing them to retreat to the Khandak El-Ghamik and Zqaq El-Blat neighborhoods, where Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have strong support.

Clashes have become more frequent in recent weeks, with supporters of Hezbollah and Amal attacking protest camps in several cities amid counter-demonstrations.

The renewed attacks on protesters came a day after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that both the militant group and Amal “are exercising control over their supporters and that attackers do not belong to them.”

Khandak El-Ghamik residents told reporters that the attackers are not from the area.

“We do not know who they are,” one resident said.

The counter-protests have taken place in the capital and other Lebanese cities in recent weeks, prompting the leader of Hezbollah on Friday to urge his supporters — and those of Amal — to stay calm.

Following the violence, a local sheikh went to the minaret of a neighborhood mosque and called on the attackers to “go back to their homes.”

Abu Ali, an elder of the region, said that the attackers came from areas outside Beirut and infiltrated Khandak El-Ghamik before launching attacks on protesters in Riad El-Solh and Martyrs squares.

Activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News: “The attackers were chanting slogans showing their political affiliations. These attacks are repeated after every speech by Nasrallah. They want to spread fear in our ranks.”

The attacks coincided with plans by protesters to stage a sit-in in Nejmeh Square, near the Parliament. Activists said they wanted “to rescue the Parliament from corrupt authority.”

Security forces blocked the square to prevent protesters getting close to Parliament.

Hundreds of people had been marching in the capital as part of a historic wave of protests that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, furious at a ruling elite that steered the country toward its worst economic crisis in decades.

Since the protests pushed Saad Al-Hariri to resign as prime minister, talks between the main parties have been deadlocked for weeks over forming a new cabinet.

Lebanon urgently needs a new government to pull it out of the crisis. Foreign donors say they will only help after the country gets a cabinet that can enact reforms.

The unrest erupted in October from a build-up of anger at the rising cost of living, new tax plans and the record of sectarian leaders dominating the country since its 1975-90 civil war. Protesters accuse the political class of milking the state for their own benefit through networks of patronage.

Lebanon’s economic crisis, long in the making, has now come to a head: Pressure has piled on the pegged Lebanese pound. A hard currency crunch has left many importers unable to bring in goods, and banks have restricted dollar withdrawals. 

(With Reuters)