Coast guard sends Nigerians, other migrants back to Libya

Hundreds of African migrants en route to Europe have been returned to detention centres in Libya after being rescued overnight on Monday by the Libyan Coast Guard, 12 hours after setting out across the Mediterranean.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Libya, said the coast guard had rescued five rubber dinghies – each carrying about 100 migrants – off Libya’s western coastline.

Hamid said that the migrants, from countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and the DRC, were distraught to learn that they would be returning to a detention centre somewhere in Libya.

“To reach this point they have travelled for weeks, sometimes months. They have to work to earn enough money for the journey and to be picked up on a day where there’s good weather conditions is a huge disappointment,” Hamid said.

“Their stories are ones of people desperately trying to escape the turmoil they were born into.”

Amina, a young woman from Ghana who is three months pregnant, said she was hoping to give birth in Italy.

“I’m very stressed out. I’m frustrated, because I don’t even know where to start, I don’t even know what to do because right now I have nothing. I have nothing,” Amina said.

Alima, another young woman from Nigeria, said her father was killed by Boko Haram fighters and that she had promised to send money to her mother when she set off.

“I don’t want to stay in Libya. I don’t want Libya to deport me. Please take me to Europe,” she said.

When told that so many people were dying at sea, another woman screamed: “We don’t care. We don’t care.”

Hamid reported that some of the migrants had first arrived in Libya to find a job, but Congolese migrant Patrick said fruitless efforts made him decide to go further north.

“And now from here we are going to face death,” Patrick said.

The migrants’ dreams were dashed as thousands of people successfully arrived at Italian ports after being rescued off Libya by European coast guards.

A French ship sent to boost EU migrants patrols in the Mediterranean rescued about 220 people off the Libyan coast on Sunday and handed them over to Italian authorities, officials said.

The migrants, who were reportedly mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, were brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they will be accommodated temporarily.

In a three-day period ending Sunday, more than 6,700 migrants were rescued in the seas north of Libya from overcrowded rubber dinghies and unseaworthy fishing boats sent out by smuggling rings, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Ten bodies were found on Sunday on boats or in the sea.

Calm seas and mild temperatures fueled the spike in human trafficking – just like it did last month when nearly 6,000 migrants were rescued during a few days of good weather.

Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Dekker, reporting from the port of Pozzallo, on the island of Sicily, said that while some boats had docked, most of the occupants had yet to disembark.

“We’re being told that there is a rigorous one-by-one medical check-up going on to ensure that people do not carry transmittable diseases,” she said.

Italy has not yet released the total number of migrant arrivals in April, but the relentless stream of migrants this year is on track to surpass the 170,000 rescued at sea by Italy in 2014.

The surge of arrivals set Italian port mayors and charity organisations scrambling to find beds for the migrants.



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