A commercial ship has rescued 35 Europe-bound migrants off Libya’s Mediterranean coast and returned them to the capital, Tripoli, the UN migration agency said.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) tweeted that migrants, who were intercepted on Thursday, were given medical assistance and relief items upon disembarkation.
“Saving lives at sea is a moral and legal obligation. It is however unacceptable that migrants continue to be returned to an unsafe port,” said the IOM.
Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, has emerged as a major transit point for African and Arab migrants fleeing war and poverty to Europe.
Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. As of last October, roughly 19,000 migrants have drowned or disappeared on the sea route since 2014, according to IOM.
Last week, a rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants that set out from Libyan shores for Europe, apparently went missing in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea after leaving Libya on Feb. 8.
In recent years, the EU has partnered with the coast guard and other Libyan forces to stop the flow of migrants. Rights groups say those efforts have left migrants at the mercy of brutal armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers that lack adequate food and water.
The latest developments come amid criticism of the EU’s lack of rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Member countries agreed earlier this month to end an anti-migrant smuggler operation involving only surveillance aircraft and instead deploy military ships to concentrate on upholding a widely flouted UN arms embargo that’s considered key to winding down Libya’s relentless war.