Libya’s coast guard said Monday it intercepted dozens of Europe-bound migrants off the country’s Mediterranean coast the previous day.
A rubber boat with 53 African migrants, including 14 women and two children, was stopped off Libya’s western town of Abu-Kemmash, about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Tunisia, said the coast guard spokesman, Ayoub Gassim.
The migrants were returned to shore late on Sunday and taken to a detention center in the capital, Tripoli, he added.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty 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.
The humanitarian aid group Sea-Eye has said that gunmen on Libya-flagged speedboats threatened the crew of its rescue ship Alan Kurdi and the migrants it was rescuing on Saturday, firing shots into the air and water.
The group’s spokesman Gorden Isler said that the incident shocked the rescue crew but that they managed to bring all the roughly 90 migrants on board, according to The Associated Press.
The gunmen on the speedboats fired “warning shots” and pointed mounted guns at the rescuers and the migrants, some of whom had jumped into the water, before pulling away.
The ship later headed north, toward Europe, Islaer added.