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IOM: Libya Struggling With High Numbers of Migrants in Detention

FILE - Migrants attend prayers at a detention center in Tripoli, Libya, June 15, 2018.
FILE - Migrants attend prayers at a detention center in Tripoli, Libya, June 15, 2018.

The International Organization for Migration reports its voluntary repatriation program in Libya is unable to keep pace with the alarmingly high number of migrants in government detention centers wishing to go home.

The U.N. migration agency reports government-run detention centers in Libya are packed with migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. This, despite IOM’s robust program to return migrants to their countries of origin.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman says large numbers of refugees and migrants heading toward Europe are being intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, brought back to shore, and placed in detention upon arrival.

He says this interception or, as some see it, rescue operation, has been so successful that the number of migrants placed in official detention centers has nearly doubled from 5,500 to 9,300 between 2017 and 2018.

“IOM has made clear that we do not like detention centers as a general principle. We would like to see all of these returnees registered quickly and be allowed to live outside these centers, and, if they choose, to go home on the voluntary humanitarian return program as quickly as possible. We think it could be, in many cases, as soon as a week after they are rescued.”

In the first half of this year, the U.N. migration agency reports it has safely returned nearly 11,000 stranded migrants from Libya. The vast majority have been flown to countries in Central and West Africa. It says much smaller numbers of several hundreds have been returned to East and the Horn of Africa and a few more to Asia and North Africa.