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Dec 16, 12:07 PM EST

Libya's coast guard rescues over 270 migrants


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Inside Libya
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Libya's coast guard rescues over 270 migrants

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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Libyan coast guards rescued at least 270 migrants off the country's shores, a Navy official said on Saturday, bringing to over 450 the total number of migrants they've rescued in less than a week.

El-Hadi Kheil said that the Arab and African migrants, who included women and children, were found at sea in an area between the coastal towns of Garabulli and Zliten, east of the capital, Tripoli, where they were taken to a naval base.

"We were lost and didn't know where to direct our boat," Omar Yusef, a Sudanese migrant, told The Associated Press, "We called the coast guard and a helicopter came and guided us."

Doctors from the U.N. migration agency and UNHCR received them at the naval base to provide medical assistance ahead of immigration control transferring them to a Tripoli detention center.

Libya descended into chaos following an uprising in 2011 that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi. It has since become a frequently used perilous route to Europe for those fleeing poverty and civil war in the region.

The massive flood of migrants prompted the EU to train and equip Libya's coast guard to stop boats trying to make the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are trapped in Libyan detention centers, which often slammed by rights groups as overcrowded and unsanitary.

Europe's cooperation with Libyan authorities has, however, reduced by more than half the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe compared to last year.

According to the U.N. migration agency's latest figures, some 167,700 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea since the start of 2017, compared to at least 358,000 in 2016.

Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders, among other aid and rights groups, have criticized the EU's policy, saying it primarily aims to block the Mediterranean trafficking route and leave thousands of migrants trapped in Libya at risk of horrific abuses.

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