November 22, 2019 / 1:38 PM / 20 days ago

Six migrant bodies washed up on Libyan coast

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The bodies of six migrants were washed up on the coast east of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Friday, while about 100 survivors were brought back to shore, coastguards and U.N. officials said.

The bodies were washed ashore near al-Khoms, where there have been regular departures of boats packed with migrants trying to reach Italy, despite a sharp drop in overall crossings from Libya since mid-2017.

Those who died may have tried to swim from the boat on which the survivors were found, since it broke down and the migrants were in need of help, a coastguard official in Khoms said

The survivors were from sub-Saharan African countries and included three children and 10 women, one of whom was pregnant and gave birth during the rescue operation, the official said.

They were not detained and left the port of their own accord, he said.

Migrants intercepted by Libya’s European Union-backed coastguard used to be routinely detained on arrival, but recently several detention centres have been shut and large groups of migrants have been let go.

However, 30 of the group brought back to Khoms returned to the port shortly after leaving because they heard shooting near a local market and were afraid, the coastguard official said.

Rights groups have strongly criticised EU-backed efforts to curtail migrant crossings from Libya, including support for the local coastguard.

Migrants returned to Libya face widespread abuse including torture, forced labour and sexual assault, as well as risks from a military conflict that has escalated around Tripoli since April, activists say.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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