Rome: A spokesman for the UN migration agency said that nearly 500 migrants who attempted to cross the central Mediterranean have been returned to Libya, two days after aid organisations lost contact with the boat carrying them.
According to Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the UN's International Organisation for Migration, or IOM, Libya is an unsafe port and migrants should never be returned there.
According to him, 485 migrants arrived on Friday at the Benghazi port in Libya.IOM was not given any additional information at this time.Alarm Phone, a company that responds to distress calls from migrant boats, had not heard from the boat since Wednesday morning.
Around 320 kilometres north of Libya and more than 400 kilometres from Malta or Sicily, Italy's southern island, the boat was at that time adrift in rough seas without a functioning engine.
Alarm Phone claimed they had no connection to the missing boat when the Italian Coast Guard announced on Thursday that 423 and 671 migrants had been saved in two separate operations in Italian search and rescue waters. There was no immediate comment from the Italian coast guard.
A different incident involved 27 migrants being illegally returned to Libya by an oil tanker, according to the German charity SOS Humanity. International humanitarian law prohibits the forcible return of migrants to nations where they may suffer severe mistreatment, and Libya has a long history of migrant abuse.
Governments across Europe have adopted a more restrictive stance on immigration, including in Italy, which is currently dealing with a spike in sea arrivals.
Up from about 18,000 in the same period of 2022, there have been more than 47,000 landings so far this year.