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Returning migrant boats to Libya could 'breach' international law, says UN

Immigration European Union - Cartoon [Cartoon Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

An Italian boat returning 108 migrants from the Mediterranean to Tripoli could be in breach of international law, according to the United Nations.

On Monday, oil vessel Asso 28 rescued 108 migrants who departed from Libya, according to the Spanish Charity Proactive Open Arms. Italy has called for the boat to return those rescued to the North African state as they were not found in international waters but rather in Libyan waters.

However, according to international law, migrants and refugees cannot be returned to potential danger zones and, according to the UN and EU, Libya is not a safe-zone.

Italy's coastguard claims that the rescue took place in Libyan waters, not international waters and was "carried out under the coordination of the Libyan coast guard, which managed the whole operation" and therefore the migrants should be taken to Libya.

The United Nations is investigating the case, and attempting to ascertain the location of the incident. A spokesman for the UN migration agency told Reuters that some parties involved in the case have made contradictory statements surrounding the location of the incident.

Libya first told the UN that the rescue operation was carried out by "an unknown vessel", then changed its story and said the rescuing boat was Libyan.

Late last month, the EU said it is willing to splash out $7,000 per migrant taken in by member states. The financial incentives come after migrant rescue boats were prevented from docking in Italy.

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Italy has taken in more than 640,000 mainly African migrants over the past five years. Efforts by Rome to persuade other EU states to accept some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care has largely fallen on deaf ears, heightening both anti-European and anti-migrant sentiment in Italy.

The far-right League scored its best-ever result in March national elections and has formed a coalition government with the anti-system 5-Star Movement.

League leader Matteo Salvini was sworn in as interior minister in June and has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration and change EU rules.

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