UN: At least 120 migrants intercepted off Libya's coast

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CAIRO (AP) — More than 120 Europe-bound migrants, including eight women and 28 children, were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea by Libya's coast guard, the U.N. migration agency said on Thursday.

The International Organization for Migration tweeted that a vessel carrying the migrants was stopped late on Wednesday off the coast of the North African country and that the migrants were returned to Libya.

“We reiterate that Libya is not a port of safety,” the IOM said.

Safa Msehli, an IOM spokesperson in Libya, tweeted that 126 migrants from the vessel were taken to detention centers inside Libya.

In the years since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the IOM.

In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coast guard and other local groups to try and halt the dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.

Separately, a Libyan health official tweeted that three of the four bodies retrieved out of the Mediterranean by Libyan rescue workers on Wednesday were of Egyptian children, aged between 5 years and 8 years.

Amin Al-Hashemi, a spokesperson with the health ministry said Thursday that the children had drowned while sailing to Europe with their parents, whose fate remains unknown. Hashmeni's tweet included pictures of the bodies of two boys and a girl, each lying on the beach wrapped in blankets.