Libyans arrest 600 Europe-bound illegal migrants

Libyan authortities detain 600 people they suspect were trying to cross illegally to Europe, now being held in Tripoli, Libya, May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Libyan authortities detain 600 people they suspect were trying to cross illegally to Europe, now being held in Tripoli, Libya, May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

TRIPOLI (AFP) - The Libyan authorities on Saturday arrested about 600 illegal migrants from African countries who were planning to sail to Europe, a coastguard official said.

The migrants were rounded up during a huge crackdown in the Tripoli region during which telecommunications equipment was also seized, the official told AFP.

Hundreds of those who had been rounded up were seen sitting on the ground outside a detention centre in Tripoli, as authorities distributed food and drink.

Libya has a coastline of 1,770km and has long been a stepping stone for Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

Most head for the Italian island of Lampedusa which lies some 300km from Libyan shores.

People smugglers, who have operated in Libya for years, have increased their lucrative trade, feeding on the political divisions and lawlessness that has gripped the country since the end of the 2011 uprising.

Libya has now two governments and parliaments vying for power and armed militias battling for its oil wealth.

The Tripoli government, which is not recognised by the international community, has stepped up in recent weeks arrests of illegal migrants.

Last Sunday, officials linked to the Tripoli government announced the arrest of 400 illegal migrants on the same day of the launch of an operation targeting people smugglers.