Europe-bound child migrants intercepted off Libya’s coast

The 125 children, fleeing war and poverty across the perilous maritime route to Europe, included 114 unaccompanied minors

Saturday 01/05/2021
A file photo shows a woman kissing a child on the NGO’s vessel “Alan Kurdi” during an operation at sea. (AFP)
A file photo shows a woman kissing a child on the NGO’s vessel “Alan Kurdi” during an operation at sea. (AFP)

CAIRO – A total of 125 Europe-bound children were among those intercepted at sea this week by Libyan authorities off the Mediterranean coast, the United Nations child welfare agency said Friday, adding that most were brought to detention centres.

The children, fleeing war and poverty across the perilous maritime route to Europe, included 114 unaccompanied minors, UNICEF added in a statement.

“The majority of those rescued are sent to overcrowded detention centres in Libya under extremely difficult conditions and with no or limited access to water and health services. Nearly 1,100 children are in these centres,” read the statement.

UNICEF urged the Libyan authorities to release all children and to put an end to immigration detention.

In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gathafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East.

“The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world,” UNICEF said, adding that at least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean since January.

In most recent years, warmer weather in spring has accompanied upticks in the number of vessels launched by Libya-based migrant traffickers.

Last month, SOS Mediterranean personnel and a merchant ship spotted several bodies from a shipwrecked dinghy, believed to have been carrying 130 migrants. People on the boat had appealed for help in waters off Libya, but no coast guard vessels from Libya, Italy or Malta came to their aid, the group said. No survivors were found.

Humanitarian groups have been calling for European nations to resume the deployment of military vessels on rescue patrols.

After hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants, many of them ineligible for asylum, were brought to Italian shores by coast guard, navy and border police ships and military vessels from Italy and some other nations, large-scale rescue operations in the central Mediterranean north of Libya were ended.

Italy has been equipping and training the Libyan coast guard personnel to rescue migrants in their search-and-rescue area and to discourage traffickers.

Those intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard are brought ashore and taken to detention centres. Human rights groups and U.N. agencies have denounced inhumane treatment in the centres, including beatings, rapes and insufficient rations.

“Europe can no longer remain passive in the face of recurring shipwrecks while consciously upholding a system of unspeakable abuse by supporting forced returns to Libya,” SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, a total of 121 migrants were brought to safety aboard another charity rescue ship, Sea-Watch 4, in two separate rescues.

According to the Italian Interior Ministry, as of Friday, some 9,000 migrants had reached Italy by sea.