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Desperate bid to save migrants crossing treacherous Mediterranean

At least 54 migrants died over the previous four days [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 May, 2017

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Ten thousand migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast in the past four days, but 54 more people lost their lives attempting to dangerous crossing to Europe.
Ten thousand migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast in the past four days, but at least 54 others died making the dangerous route across the Mediterranean Sea, Libyan and Italian officials have said.

On Saturday, the Tunisian army also rescued 126 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa hoping to reach Italian shores, officials said. They were aboard a flimsy inflatable boat off the coastal town of Ben Gardane, near the Libyan border. 

On Friday, more than 1,200 migrants were rescued by Libyan ships and taken to Tripoli or Zawiya, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) west, while the Italian coastguard and commercial boats rescued 2,200 others and took them to Italy.

At least ten bodies were also found by the Italian coastguard, officials said.

Migrants were still disembarking in southern Italy on Saturday.

Another 6,400 were picked up between Tuesday and Thursday, but at least 44 people died, including 35 who drowned on Wednesday when a powerful wave struck their vessel, pitching them into the sea as a rescue ship was distributing life jackets.

Officials expressed fears that many more people were still missing at sea. 

The unloading of passengers in Sicily was halted all week due to the G7 summit in the eastern hilltop town of Taormina, which lengthened rescue ships' journey by 24 hours and delayed their return to the seas.

In response, they called on commercial boats to help out. 

More than 50,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast since the start of the year, not counting those rescued in recent days, while more than 1,400 have drowned or are missing, according to UN figures.

Of the 181,000 migrants who entered Italy last year, some 90 percent arrived via Libya.

The North African country has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Libya has urged Europe, and particularly Italy, to supply it with the equipment it needs to monitor its southern borders, through which migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, enter the country.

While migration and the vast continent on Sicily's southern doorstep got a mention Saturday in the final statement of G7 leaders gathered in the hilltop town of Taormina, the summit itself was dominated by trade, climate change and security threats.

Summit host Italy had made Africa a priority for the gathering, picking Sicily as a venue as it was "at the heart of the Mediterranean" and a "bridge between Europe and Africa," according to Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

But in the final G7 statement, the leaders recognised the need to support refugees while also emphasising "the sovereign rights of states, individually and collectively, to control their own borders."

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