30 Aug 2016

Thousands rescued from boats off Libya

2:07 pm on 30 August 2016

About 6500 refugees and migrants have been rescued off Libya, the Italian coastguard says, in one of the biggest operations of its kind to date.

Migrants were rescued about 20km off the coast of the Libyan town of Sabratha.

A screenshot from footage showing people swimming towards their rescuers in the latest operations off the coast of Libya. Photo: BBC

Some 40 co-ordinated rescue missions took place about 20km off the Libyan town of Sabratha.

Video footage shows a group of people, said to be from Eritrea and Somalia, cheering and some swimming to rescue vessels, while others carried babies aboard.

On Sunday more than 1100 people were rescued in the same area.

The instability in Libya has made the country a hub for people-trafficking.

Monday's operations involved vessels from Italy as well as EU border agency Frontex and NGOs Proactiva Open Arms and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The group had set off in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels with enough fuel to reach waiting rescuers, AP reported.

Last year more than one million refugees and migrants - many fleeing the civil war in Syria - arrived in Europe, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.

In March, the EU struck a deal with Turkey to try to stop new arrivals crossing from Turkey to Greece while Balkan nations closed their borders, moves that have reduced the number of arrivals using the so-called eastern Mediterranean route.

However, those from African countries such as Eritrea and Somalia, as well as west African nations such as Nigeria and the Gambia, are continuing to attempt the crossing from Libya to Italy.

About 106,000 people have arrived in Italy so far this year while 2726 have died in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The IOM says there are a further 275,000 in Libya waiting to travel.

Overall, about 284,000 refugees and migrants have entered Europe so far this year through various transit routes across Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

- BBC / RNZ

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