Ninety-three migrants have been rescued and returned to Libya after trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Twitter last week.
The UN agency said that one woman among them gave birth on a rubber dinghy, while six more died before the survivors were rescued and returned to the city of Khoms.
For migrants like those rescued, a return to Libya often means a return to the country’s notorious detention centers, where they face forced labor and violence among other human rights abuses.
Many of the migrants that leave Libya’s shores for Europe are themselves fleeing forced labor at the hands of human traffickers, or fleeing violence and modern slavery in their home countries.
With migrants in Libya facing a high risk of forced labor both in and out of government custody, activists have long called for an end to their systematic return to the country.
Al Jazeera reports:
“The conditions in these centres are crazy,” Alkaol, 17, a migrant from The Gambia, told Al Jazeera.
“Sometimes you get food, sometimes you don’t. If they give you bread, you eat half and save half. You don’t know when you will eat next. If you don’t have money, your only way out is either escaping or death.
“If they catch people running away, they shoot at you. They may shoot you in the leg, they may shoot you in the head.”
Libya has been in a fragile state of conflict since 2011 when the death of leader Muammar Gaddafi left a power vacuum that has been exploited by human traffickers to draw migrants and refugees to the country.
Their plight has worsened in the past year with a new rebel assault on Tripoli, the capital, and with complications due to the current coronavirus pandemic.
There are rescue missions that do not return rescued migrants to Libya, but the Libyan coastguard tends to out-run them.
According to Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinated a French charity rescue mission just days before last week’s operation, decried the coastguard’s actions.
“There is no coordination, no information sharing for life-saving operations. We’re talking about people who were reported to be dying, a newborn baby on board,” said Romaniuk.
“The fact that, even in this situation, they won’t share information, it’s an absolute disgrace.”
Freedom United has been campaigning for the end of forced labor in Libya by calling on the European Union to cease its funding to the Libyan coastguard.
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