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  • Migrants carry their luggage at Misrata airport, before their deportation and resettlement in Italy, in Misrata, Libya April 29, 2019.

    Migrants carry their luggage at Misrata airport, before their deportation and resettlement in Italy, in Misrata, Libya April 29, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 May 2019

Other migrants were taken to Italy by airplane to apply for refugee status.

The Libyan coast guard has stopped 113 migrants trying to reach Italy over the past two days, the United Nations said Wednesday, as boat departures resume following a lull in fighting between rival forces in Libya.

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The western Libyan coast is a major departure point primarily for African migrants fleeing conflict and poverty, trying to reach Italy across the Mediterranean Sea with the help of human traffickers.

Smuggling activity had slowed when forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to take the capital of Tripoli, home to Libya's internationally recognized National Accord government.

But 3,300 migrants and refugees remain trapped in detention centers near the Tripoli clashes, the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, said.

The agency also reported 146 refugees fleeing conflict in Libya were evacuated to Italy Monday, where their asylum claims will be processed.

The group, including 46 children separated from their families, landed at Pratica di Mare Airport in Rome on Monday after leaving a deportation facility in Tripoli.

The evacuation was a joint operation between the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Italian and Libyan authorities.

On Monday, the fighting escalated in eastern commander Khalifa Haftar's effort to capture the capital, as the group attacked Libya's largest oilfield, but was repelled by its protection force.

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But clashes eased Tuesday after a push by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) back by artillery failed to make inroads toward the center.

Shelling audible in central Tripoli was less intense Wednesday than on previous days. Three weeks of clashes had killed 376 as of Tuesday, the World Health Organization said.

The Libyan coast guard stopped two boats on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, carrying 113 migrants in all, and returned them to two western towns away from the Tripoli frontline, where they were put into detention centers, U.N. migration agency IOM said.

A coast guard spokesman said the migrants were from Arab and sub-Saharan African countries as well as Bangladesh.

Human rights groups have accused armed groups and members of the coast guard of being involved in human trafficking.

Officials have been accused in the past of mistreating detainees, who are being held in their thousands as part of European-backed efforts to curb smuggling. A U.N. report in December referred to a "terrible litany" of violations including unlawful killings, torture, gang rape and slavery.

Rights groups have also accused the European Union of complicity in the abuse as Italy and France have provided boats for the coast guard to step up patrols. That move has helped to reduce migrant departures.

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