Hundreds of migrants intercepted off Libya

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At least 480 migrants have been intercepted off Libya by local coastguards over the weekend, according to the United Nations' migration agency.

They are among 4500 people who have been brought back to Libya this year after attempting the dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in a tweet on Sunday.

Photos posted by the IOM Twitter feed showed workers distributing blankets to migrants after they arrived onshore, but the agency also voiced its objection to the treatment of migrants inside the war-torn country.

"We maintain that Libya is not a safe port," it wrote.

The IOM said 310 migrants were brought back to shore on Saturday night, with an additional 173 returned on Sunday.

In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder on the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya's coastguard and other local groups to stem such dangerous sea crossings.

Rights groups say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups, or confined in squalid detention centres rife with abuses.

On January 19, a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and at least 43 people drowned.

The tragedy marked the first maritime disaster in 2021 involving migrants seeking better lives in Europe.