UN says six migrants dead, dozens rescued off Libya coast

The rescue ship "Eleonore" sails on the Mediterranean with around 100 migrants on board. The "Eleonore" took in the migrants, off the Libyan coast, on 26.08.2019 /Getty Images
File photo: French charity boat Ocean Viking

93 migrants among them, a woman who gave birth at sea were rescued off Libyan shores as they tried to reach Europe, but six others died along the way, the UN’s migration agency said on Saturday.

The survivors were brought back overnight to the port city of Khoms, west of the capital Tripoli, the International Organziation of Migration said on Twitter adding that the survivors were released after disembarking in Khoms.

Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinated the mission aboard that vessel, said rescue ships are often out-run by the Libyan coast guard who beat them to intercept migrants and return them to Libya.

Such was the case, he said, with the overnight rescue operation, deploring the lack of coordination.

“We were about an hour and a half from being nearby” when the Libyan coast guard intervened, said Romaniuk.

“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,” he added.

“The fact that, even in this situation, they won’t share information, it’s an absolute disgrace.”

The Ocean Viking, he said, was some 153 nautical miles away from the stricken boat when it received a distress signal.

The latest operation came just days after French charity boat Ocean Viking picked up dozens of migrants who included 31 Pakistanis, off the Italian island of Lampedusa after they had drifted from Libya.

Traffickers have exploited the unrest to turn the North African country into a key route for illicit migration towards Europe.

The situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya worsened after eastern Libya-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 and the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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.

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.