Libya halts more than 400 migrants bound for Europe

Saturday February 4 2017

A crowded boat of immigrants during a rescue

A crowded boat of immigrants during a rescue operation by the Italian navy off the coast of Sicily on June 30, 2014. Libya's coast guard said February 4, 2017 it intercepted more than 400 African migrants attempting to reach Europe. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By AFP

Libya's coast guard said Saturday it intercepted more than 400 African migrants attempting to reach Europe, a day after EU leaders agreed on moves to curb mass migration from the country.

General Ayoub Qassem, the coast guard spokesman, said 431 people on inflatable crafts were rounded up between Thursday and Saturday at sea off the town of Sabratha, 70km west of the capital Tripoli.

"The migrants are of different African nationalities and there are a great deal of women and children among them," he said.

Have died

Italy's coastguard said Thursday that more than 1,750 migrants had been rescued in the Mediterranean within 24 hours.

Around 230 people have died en route to Europe since the start of 2017, according to the United Nations.

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European Union leaders meeting Friday in Malta approved a new strategy to "break the business model" of traffickers who helped 181,000 mainly African migrants enter the EU via Libya and Italy last year.

Smuggling networks

The plan includes funding and training Libya's coast guard to make it better able to intercept migrant boats and helping neighbouring countries to close routes into Libya, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.

Lawlessness in Libya since a 2011 uprising that ousted longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi has allowed smuggling networks to develop a lucrative trafficking trade.

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