Libya intercepts African migrants sailing to Europe

The Libyan coast guard announced on 5th of February that they intercepted more than 400 migrants as they attempted to reach Europe on smuggler boats.

The announcement came a day after EU leaders agreed on a deal to engage Libya in the fight to curb the flow of migrants to Europe. The agreement included a plan to train and equip the Libyan coast guard and other relevant agencies.

The EU will spend more than 200 million euros to support the Libyan coast guard and other agencies and to help the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) set up safe refugee camps in the country.

After meeting with Libyan prime minster Fayez Serraj in Rome, Italian prime minster Paolo Gentiloni told reporters that the deal was “just a piece” of a wider plan that would be discussed in Malta during the EU meeting last Friday.

The EU has agreed to support bilateral agreements reached between EU members and Libya.

The Libyan coast guard said the 431 migrants who were caught when attempting to illegally cross the Mediterranean were all caught between 2 and 4 February. Coast guard spokesman general Ayoub Qassem said the boats were all intercepted near the town of Sabratha, 70 kms west of the capital Tripoli.

“The migrants are of different African nationalities and there are a great deal of women and children among them,” said Qassem.

“Smugglers had tried to foil the process of arrest by opening fire on our coast guards but the coast guards fired back and that forced the smugglers to withdraw.”

The coast guard also announced that they had a week earlier, on January 27, picked up Syrian, Tunisian, Libyan and Palestinian migrants as they sailed to Europe aboard three wooden boats.

At least 253 migrants have died in the Mediterranean while attempting to cross from North Africa to Europe so far this year.