The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Thursday that 71 illegal immigrants, including women and children, were rescued off the Libyan coast.

The 71 migrants, including four women and two children, were taken back to Libya’s capital Tripoli by the coast guard on Wednesday night, according to an IOM tweet.

Since the fall of the late leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011 and with the ensuing chaos and insecurity, Libya has become a preferred point of departure for thousands of illegal immigrants wanting to cross the Mediterranean sea toward European shores.

IOM had been running the Voluntary Humanitarian Return program which arranges the return of illegal immigrants stranded in Libya to their countries of origin, before the Libyan authorities closed the country’s borders as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

“While the Libyan airspace is still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, over 1,000 stranded migrants in Libya have so far registered with IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return to go back home and reunite with their families,” IOM said.

Nearly 5,000 immigrants have so far been returned to Libya in 2020 after being rescued at sea, while more than 9,200 immigrants were rescued and returned to Libya in 2019, according to IOM.

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