UN outraged by return of 270 migrants rescued at sea to “unsafe” Libya

More than 270 migrants bound for Europe were rescued by a commercial ship in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast and handed over to the local coast guard, who sent them to detention centers, the UN agency for migration and refugees said, the Associated Press (AP) reported today, June 17.

The migrants were rescued in international waters last Monday by the Gibraltar-flagged vessel Vos Triton, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a joint statement. A day later, they were returned by the Libyan Coast Guard to the port of Tripoli, from where they went to detention centers.

“Both organizations reiterate that no one should be returned to Libya after being rescued at sea. Under international maritime law, rescued people must be disembarked in a safe place,” the UN pointed out, adding that Libya cannot be considered such a “safe place.”

For nearly a decade, war-torn Libya has been and remains a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking to settle in Europe. Smugglers often ferry desperate families in ill-equipped rubber boats. This year alone, more than 13,000 migrants have been returned to Libyan detention centers, and hundreds have died at sea in failed attempts to reach Europe, AP notes.