Libya turned back more than 200 illegal migrants across its land borders on Thursday, in a rare sign of cooperation from the country’s divided political institutions.
The migrants, who wore different tracksuits to identify their nationality, were given biscuits, milk and bottles of water by police in Tripoli before being taken on buses to the Libyan border crossings.
The group of returnees included “105 Egyptians, 101 Chadians and 20 Sudanese,” Badreddine al-Sed Ben Hamed, deputy head of the office in charge of the operation, told AFP.
Embassy staff from the migrants’ home countries observed the process, with each group being driven to the border crossings to their home country.
The operation was organized by the interior ministry of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based government, whose authority is being challenged by a rival government in eastern Libya.
But an agreement with the authorities there and in the south made it possible to coordinate the expulsions.
Each year, war-ravaged Libya is a conduit for thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.
Most enter the Sahara via the country’s far southern borders.
Police spokesman General Ahmad Abu Kraa said the reception centers for detained migrants are “overwhelmed, causing many problems”.
Libya is regularly criticized for its treatment of migrants, with human rights groups accusing horrific treatment by smuggling gangs and in state detention centers.
Authorities and armed groups operating under state auspices have repeatedly been accused of torture, rape and other ill-treatment.
The United Nations had previously dealt with the repatriation of refugees from Libya, but the deal between authorities in the West, East and South has enabled the Interior Ministry’s agency to combat illegal migration to work in a unified manner across the country.
Yet Libya remains violently fragmented and faces multiple crises following a NATO-backed revolt in 2011 that toppled dictator Muamer Gaddafi.
Tensions between the rival governments in August culminated in deadly gun battles between their militia groups in Tripoli, killing more than 30 people.