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The New Arab

Hundreds of migrants picked up between Libya and Italy

More than 3,000 people died trying to reach Europe from Libya last year [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 March, 2018

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Smugglers took advantage of calm seas this weekend and sent several hundred migrants across the Mediterranean to Italy.
Several hundred migrants were picked on Saturday by international charity ships and Libya’s coastguard as a flurry of boats were sent to Italy with smugglers taking advantage of the calm seas.

Three migrant boats were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard vessels. The first, with 125 people, was an inflatable dinghy that broke down just west of the capital Tripoli, said Ayoub Qassem, a coastguard spokesman.

The second boat, with 112 people on board, was turned back off Garabulli, east of Tripoli, and a third boat with 98 migrants was intercepted off Abu Kamash, near Libya’s Tunisia border.

Rescuers on board of the Aquarius rescue ship said that a boat, carrying more than 100 migrants, was on the verge of completely sinking when it reached them. More than half the migrants were Nigerians, and the others from other sub-Saharan African countries, and two Palestinians.

"All but one of the five balloons holding the boat up was either completely deflated or deflating and there were still about 120 people inside the boat, so a very, very precarious condition," said one of the rescuers, Max Avis to Reuters.

Migrants threw one of the Palestinians overboard after he tried to convince them that they would be better off being saved by a nearby Libyan coastguard boat instead of drowning, rescuers said.

For many migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, Libya is the main departure point. In the past four years, more than 600,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Italy and thousands perished at sea.

The number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the western Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year is likely to increase, after 2017 closed with more than twice the traffic of the previous year, warned Europe’s border watchdog earlier in the year.

Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometre (7.5 mile) frontier between Melilla and Morocco.

Others have navigated the eight-kilometre border at Ceuta, by climbing the border fences, swimming along the coast, or hiding in vehicles.

Around 2,583 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea last year, and 199 others died en route.

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