Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Spike in migrants risking death to escape violence in Libya

Migrants arriving in Europe flee abuse and torture in Libyan detention centres

Spanish humanitarian rescue vessel Aita Mari arrives in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, southern Italy. AP
Spanish humanitarian rescue vessel Aita Mari arrives in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, southern Italy. AP

Migrants desperate to leave war-torn Libya are risking perilous sea conditions in the Mediterranean to escape the violence despite worsening winter conditions.

Libya’s coastguard has reported a spike in the number of migrants making the dangerous crossing with six boats intercepted by Libyan authorities in the past week.

The number of migrants on board the six vessels headed for Europe totalled 433.

While more than 600 migrants arrived by sea to Italy in four days, between Thursday and Sunday, according to figures provided by the Italian Interior Ministry.

Earlier this week two rescue ships carrying a total of 140 migrants saved from the Mediterranean were permitted to dock in Italy. Passengers were allowed to disembark following an agreement by some EU nations to take in some of the rescued migrants.

Migrants disembarking from one of the rescue ships, the Aita Mari, spoke of the “hell” they had left behind in Libya.

An Eritrean man named Abdul, who fled war in his own country, told Euronews he had been captured by militia fighting in Libya.

"Libya is not a good place," he said.

Testimony from migrants on the Aita Mari confirmed that torture and extortion had become commonplace in detention centres. The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has voiced concern about an “apparent spike” in crossings. It said at least 12 boats had been either intercepted or rescued in the central Mediterranean in the past week.

While the number of migrants attempting to make the journey across the Mediterranean into Europe is much lower than its peak in 2015, more than 1,100 migrants have died or are missing at sea having tried to cross this year, according to IOM figures.

Another ship Open Arms disembarked 62 migrants, who were rescued a week ago, including 26 minors of which all but two were unaccompanied by an adult. One of the rescued was treated for a gunshot wound and other passengers had severe burns, according to Riccardo Gatti from Open Arms.

Migrants who are caught by the Libyan coastguard trying to cross the Mediterranean are put into migrant detention centres.

Violent clashes, which began earlier this year between forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the UN-backed government in the Libyan capital, Tripoli have spilled over to areas where migrant centres are located.

In July, a missile strike hit a detention centre in the east of the capital, killing 53 migrants and injuring 130.

The agency recorded 45 deaths in the central Mediterranean route on November 22 and 23.

"Events of the past few days prove once more that crossing the Mediterranean is still extremely dangerous,” said Laurence Hart, director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean.

Updated: November 27, 2019 07:23 PM

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