Coast Guard: More than 300 migrants intercepted in boats off Libya

Migrants are seen as they are rescued by Libyan coast guards in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, January 15, 2018. REUTERS

324 migrants were picked up on Monday trying to leave Libya on board two rubber boats, the Libyan coastguard said.

According to coastguard spokesman, Ayoub Qassem, the migrants were intercepted about seven miles off the western town of Zuwara included 35 women and 16 children.

They were mostly from Chad, Nigeria, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire.

“There are some others from Tunisia, Pakistan and Morocco. There are also 32 persons including eight women and six children from Libya, and three families among them,” Qassem said.

Most migrants trying to reach Europe use Libya’s western coastline by sea; majority of them are from Sub-Saharan Africa, though recently more Tunisians and Libyans have been trying to cross, Reuters reports.

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, reports that 150,982 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 1 November.

The number of migrants crossing from Libya has dropped since July as Libyan factions and authorities – under pressure from Italy and the European Union – began to block departures, especially from the smuggling hub of Sabratha.

But they have continued from the shoreline east of the capital, Tripoli, and dozens are thought to have died after a boat sank off Zuwara earlier this month.

Zuwara was itself a major migrant smuggling hub until 2015, when there was a local backlash against smuggling after a boat thought to be carrying several hundred migrants sank.

According to the International Organization for Migration nearly 182,000 migrants from Libya have landed in Italy since the start of last year, exacerbating a massive refugee crisis already spilling out of Syria and other parts of the Middle East.