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Libya and Italy bid to stop flow of migrants

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A wooden boat carrying migrants approaches the Aquarius rescue vessel of SOS Méditerranée and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) NGOs, in the Mediterranean Sea, some 74km north of the Libyan coast last week. Photo: AP

A wooden boat carrying migrants approaches the Aquarius rescue vessel of SOS Méditerranée and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) NGOs, in the Mediterranean Sea, some 74km north of the Libyan coast last week. Photo: AP

A wooden boat carrying migrants approaches the Aquarius rescue vessel of SOS Méditerranée and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) NGOs, in the Mediterranean Sea, some 74km north of the Libyan coast last week. Photo: AP

Libya's UN-backed government yesterday agreed with Italy to establish a joint operations room to tackle migrant smugglers and traffickers to curb the flow of migrants into Europe.

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities have begun to block departures under Italian pressure. More than 600,000 people have made the journey over the last four years.

No details were given on the location of the centre and how it would operate. In the past, migrant smugglers have worked with impunity in western Libya, where the Government of National Accord has little authority over armed groups that have real power on the ground.

The Italian navy already has a presence in Tripoli port, providing "technical" assistance to Libya's coastguard, according to Italian and Libyan officials.

Activists have criticised the policy, since migrants often face extreme hardship and abuse in Libya, including forced labour. Migrants who are caught trying to cross to Italy are put in severely overcrowded detention centres authorised by the interior ministry.

Migrants stranded in Libya have been auctioned as slaves by local gangs.

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