A woman who gave birth at sea was among 93 migrants rescued off Libyan shores as they tried to reach Europe, but six others died along the way, the UN’s migration agency said.
The survivors were brought back overnight to the port city of Khoms, 120km (75 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Twitter. “Among them was a woman who gave birth on the rubber dinghy” that had undertaken the perilous Mediterranean crossing, it said.
“Migrants reported to IOM staff that 6 people have died along the journey,” it added. Libya was thrown into chaos after the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
Traffickers have exploited the unrest to turn the North African country into a key route for migration towards Europe. The situation of refugees and migrants in Libya worsened after eastern Libya-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 and the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
These people arrive in Libya fleeing poverty, conflict, war, forced labour, female genital mutilation, corrupt governments and personal threats. Some arrive in Libya by choice, others by force. For some, Libya is a country of destination and not transit.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the systematic return of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean to Libya, where they are held in crowded detention centres. These centres are said to be overcrowded with unhygienic and inhumane conditions, with abuse and violence rampant.
There is a shortage of food and drinking water, but an abundance of torture and forced labour. “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.”
The IOM said those rescued overnight were released after disembarking in Khoms. The latest operation came just days after French charity vessel Ocean Viking picked up dozens of migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa after they had drifted from Libya.
Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinated the mission aboard that vessel, said rescue ships are often out-run by the Libyan coastguard who beat them to intercept migrants and return them to Libya. “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.” More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the IOM.