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More than 250 refugees 'rescued in Mediterranean' off the coast of Libya

In 2017 alone, over 3,000 migrants have died while making the journey to Europe [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 December, 2017

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The Italian coastguard said it rescued some 255 migrants in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya overnight, just before a front of bad weather hit the area.
Some 255 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya overnight, just before a front of bad weather hit the area, the Italian coastguard said on Tuesday.

The non-governmental organisation Proactiva Open Arms picked up a rubber dinghy carrying 134 people, including seven children, on Monday night. They were to be transferred to the Aquarius rescue ship operated by another NGO, SOS Mediterranee, before being taken to Pozzallo in Sicily.

A military ship from the European anti-smuggling operation Sophia also rescued 121 people aboard two other boats, the coastguard said.

According to the Italian daily La Repubblica, smugglers have lowered the price of a crossing to 400 euros ($475) per person, in part due to the bad winter weather, but they are still cramming as many migrants as possible into the dinghies.

In his traditional Christmas address on Monday, Pope Francis urged people around the world not to forget the plight of migrants, who had been "driven from their land" because of leaders willing to shed "innocent blood".

No-one should feel "there is no room for them on this Earth," Francis told tens of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Vatican for his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message.

Last week, a group of 162 refugees were flown on a military jet from Libya to Italy for the first time on Friday in a move hailed as "historic" by Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

Those evacuated came from Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea and comprised families, single mothers, unaccompanied children and handicapped people.

"For the first time a humanitarian corridor has been opened from Libya to Europe. It's a start," Minniti said. "Today is a historic day".

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said: "For the first time, we have been able to evacuate extremely vulnerable refugees from Libya directly to Italy.

"Many of those evacuated spoke of great suffering and were kept prisoners by traffickers in inhuman conditions."

Libya has long been a transit hub for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but people smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the chaos since the 2011 revolution.

Migrants transiting through Libya are often subject to appalling conditions, including rape, torture and forced labour. 

In 2017 alone, over 3,000 migrants have died while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, according to the Missing Migrants Project. 

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