CAIRO, BARCELONA: Libya’s coast guard says it has intercepted four boats carrying 278 Europe-bound migrants off the country’s Mediterranean coast.
The migrants, including 18 women and two children, were intercepted on Tuesday in separate rescue operations off the coast near the capital, Tripoli, a spokesman said.
Ayoub Gassim said the migrants were given humanitarian and medical aid before being taken to detention centers in Tripoli.
Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed ruler Muammar Qaddafi. Armed groups have proliferated, and the country has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East for a better life in Europe.
Meanwhile, a charity that operates a rescue ship carrying 134 migrants off the coast of Italy said on Saturday that it could not guarantee their security, after the boat had spent more than two weeks waiting for a port to disembark in.
The migrants picked up off the coast of Libya, most of whom are African, are waiting to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has ordered his officials not to let them do so, although on Saturday he made a partial concession, saying he would allow any children to leave the boat.
He added that he had only agreed to this at the insistence of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
The Barcelona-based NGO Open Arms said that 27 minors were to be allowed off the boat.
It also said that the 16 days waiting for a port to disembark in had taken their toll on the migrants, with frequent fights breaking about among them and conditions on board deteriorating.
“It is terrible, the things that are happening are not only physical but psychological. The conditions in which they were staying in Libya and now in the ship, it is just terrible, with 130 people and two toilets,” Open Arms’ director and founder Oscar Camps told Reuters on Friday.
France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have said they will help relocate the migrants, but the reaction from Salvini’s interior ministry has been skeptical.
Salvini issued a statement on Saturday reiterating that Open Arms could have taken the migrants to Spain and that it was to blame for their plight. But he added that he was now willing to allow “presumed minors” off the boat.