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More than 50 refugees disembark in Libya’s capital Tripoli

More than 50 refugees from Eritrea and Sudan disembarked in Libya’s capital Wednesday after spending hours onboard a coast guard vessel, the UN migration agency said, and were immediately detained on arrival in Tripoli.

The UN mission in Libya, meanwhile, voiced concern about an escalation of fighting between rival forces over the country’s capital in recent days, and the release of over 400 jail inmates in a western town recently taken by Tripoli-allied militias.

The migrants were handed over to Libya’s coast guard after being rescued Tuesday night by a commercial ship in Maltese territorial waters, the International Organisation for Migration said. At least five bodies were also retrieved, and seven other migrants were reported missing, it said.

The agency first put the number of survivors at 47, but later said there were 51.

The rescued migrants spent the night on the coast guard vessel before disembarking in Tripoli on Wednesday and being taken by local authorities to a detention center, the IOM said.

Migrants seeking better lives in Europe often land in Libyan detention centers after perilous journeys at the mercy of traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families. These overcrowded facilities have the potential to become breeding grounds for the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases.

“We reiterate that people rescued at sea should not be returned to unsafe ports,” the UN migration agency said. “An alternative to disembarkation in Libya must be found urgently.”

Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants in need of rescue at sea, said the migrants were “illegally abducted” in Malta’s search-and-rescue zone, blaming Maltese authorities for the five deaths and the return of the others to “war, rape and torture” in Libya.

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