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Libya arrest 545 Europe-bound illegal migrants

04 June 2015, 18:19

Tripoli - More than 500 illegal migrants who had hoped to set off at dawn on Thursday for a new life in Europe were arrested in the Libyan capital, officials said.

Acting on a tip-off, authorities stormed a hideout where the migrants were waiting for people smugglers to take them to boats, migration officials said.

Mohammed Abdelsalam al-Kuwiri, from a migration squad linked to the Tripoli-based government that is not recognised internationally, said 545 migrants were rounded up.

"They are from Africa, and most of them are men. They were taken to a detention centre in the capital," said Mohammed Baker, another migration unit official.

The arrests are the latest announced by officials in Tripoli, where an anti-government militia alliance last year set up a rival administration to the elected government now based in the east.

In May alone, authorities in Tripoli said they arrested more than 1,000 migrants who had hoped to set sail for Europe.

In mid-May, the authorities said they had launched an operation targeting people smugglers who have plied their trade in Libya for decades.

Such gangs have stepped up their lucrative business since the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Libya has a coastline of 1,770 kilometres (more than 1,000 miles).

It is just 300 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa, which many migrants fleeing poverty and conflict aim for as their gateway to Europe.

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