CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s coast guard intercepted more than 430 Europe-bound migrants this week, including a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby girl on a boat off the war-torn country’s Mediterranean coast, the guard said Saturday.
Four boats carrying 284 migrants were intercepted in separate operations off the coastal towns of Zawya, Garabulli and Abu-Kemmash, and the city of Tripoli, the coast guard said in a statement. They were stopped Wednesday and migrants were handed over to authorities in Tripoli and taken to detention centers, it said.
In a separate statement, the coast guard stopped another boat with 99 migrants on board off the coast town of Khoms on Thursday. Among them was a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby girl on the coast guard’s boat, the statement said. When returned to shore, the woman and her baby were taken to a hospital in the town of Khoms.
A sixth boat carrying 50 migrants was also stopped off Khoms on Friday.
The U.N.’s migration agency said Friday that in a span of two days, at least nine boats carrying more than 600 migrants have been discovered on the central Mediterranean route. A tenth boat arrived Thursday in Italy’s Lampedusa.
The International Organization for Migration “is deeply concerned about the safety of migrants who are vulnerable to clashes, human trafficking and abuse as the security situation further deteriorates,” said Federico Soda, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.
“Libya is not a safe port; there is a need for a predictable and safe disembarkation mechanism for migrants fleeing violence and abuse,” Soda added.
The IOM said the apparent spike in departures from Libya comes at a time when Tripoli and surrounding areas are witnessing some of the heaviest shelling since the country’s war erupted in April.
Tripoli has been the scene of fighting since April between the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, and an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but weak government that holds the capital.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in African and the Middle East to Europe. In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to stem the dangerous sea crossings.
Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.
At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses.
There are limited supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families.