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500 Europe-Bound Migrants Intercepted off Libya


Libya’s coast guard Sunday intercepted a wooden boat carrying around 500 Europe-bound migrants off the country’s shore, the U.N. refugee agency said.

It marked the latest sea interception amid a surge in crossings and attempted crossings from the North African nation to European shores in recent months. It took place two days after a massive crackdown on migrants in a western Libyan town that resulted in the roundup of at least 4,000 migrants.

Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe. The trend developed after the country was plunged into chaos following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation and smuggled migrants through the country’s lengthy border with six nations. They then pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber boats in risky voyages through the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea route.

The migrants from Sunday’s interception were disembarked at an oil refinery point in the western town of Zawiya, a major launching point for migrants, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. They include Sudanese, Somalis, Bengalis and Syrians, it said.

The migrants were likely taken to a detention center as Libyan authorities typically do with intercepted migrants.

On Saturday, the Libyan coast guard intercepted around 90 migrants, including eight women and three children, and returned them to Tripoli, the U.N. agency said. The coast guard also retrieved the bodies of two migrants, while 40 others remained missing at sea, the agency said.

There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings of the Mediterranean Sea with the goal of reaching European soil. So far this year some 44,000 people have reached Europe’s shores by crossing the Central Mediterranean from Tunisia and Libya.

As of Sept. 25, more than 25,000 people had been intercepted by the EU-trained and equipped Libyan coast guard this year and returned to their original country, according to the U.N. migration agency.