Hundreds of African migrants en route to Europe have been returned to detention centres in Libya after being rescued overnight on Monday by the Libyan coastguard, 12 hours after setting out across the Mediterranean.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Libya, said the coastguard had rescued five rubber dinghies – each carrying about 100 migrants – off Libya’s western coastline.
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Hamid said that the migrants, from countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, and the DRC, were distraught to learn that they would be returning to a detention centre somewhere in Libya.
“To reach this point they have travelled for weeks, sometimes months. They have to work to earn enough money for the journey and to be picked up on a day where there’s good weather conditions is a huge disappointment,” Hamid said.
“Their stories are ones of people desperately trying to escape the turmoil they were born into.”
Amina, a young woman from Ghana who is three months’ pregnant, told our reporter she was hoping to give birth in Italy.
“I’m very stressed out. I’m frustrated, because I don’t even know where to start, I don’t even know what to do because right now I have nothing. I have nothing,” Amina said.
Alima, another young woman from Nigeria, said her father was killed by Boko Haram fighters and that she had promised to send money to her mother when she set off.
“I don’t want to stay in Libya. I don’t want Libya to deport me. Please take me to Europe.”
When our reporter mentioned that so many people were dying at sea, another woman screamed: “We don’t care. We don’t care.”
Hamid reported that some of the migrants had first arrived in Libya to find a job, but Congolese migrant Patrick said fruitless efforts made him decide to go further north.
“And now from here we are going to face death,” Patrick said.
6,700 arrivals in three days
The migrants’ dreams were dashed as thousands of people successfully arrived at Italian ports after being rescued off Libya by European coastguards.
A French ship sent to boost EU migrants patrols in the Mediterranean rescued about 220 people off the Libyan coast on Sunday and handed them over to Italian authorities, officials said.
The migrants, who were reportedly mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, were brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they will be accommodated temporarily.
In a three-day period ending Sunday, more than 6,700 migrants were rescued in the seas north of Libya from overcrowded rubber dinghies and unseaworthy fishing boats sent out by smuggling rings, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Ten bodies were found on Sunday on boats or in the sea.
Calm seas and mild temperatures fuelled the spike in human trafficking – just like it did last month when nearly 6,000 migrants were rescued during a few days of good weather.
Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Dekker, reporting from the port of Pozzallo, on the island of Sicily, said that while some boats had docked, most of the occupants had yet to disembark.
“We’re being told that there is a rigorous one-by-one medical check-up going on to ensure that people do not carry transmittable diseases,” she said.
Italy has not yet released the total number of migrant arrivals in April, but the relentless stream of migrants this year is on track to surpass the 170,000 rescued at sea by Italy in 2014.
The surge of arrivals set Italian port mayors and charity organisations scrambling to find beds for the migrants.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said promises made at last month’s EU summit had to be honoured.
“The EU summit finally confirmed the European character of the migrant issue in the Mediterranean but now we need meaningful steps,” Gentiloni told the European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in a telephone conversation, the foreign ministry said.
“A European emergency cannot continue to have only Italian responses.”
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano visited the Italian island of Sicily on Monday, conferring with local authorities wrestling with how to shelter the growing number of migrants.
Some politicians based in northern Italy, meanwhile, vowed that their regions wouldn’t take in any of the Mediterranean Sea migrants.
The Milan-based governor of Lombardy, meanwhile, vowed not to take in any more migrants.
“If there is any funding available, it should be spent on our citizens and not for clandestine migrants,” Governor Roberto Maroni was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying.
Austria’s chancellor has called for an EU-wide quota to accommodate people reaching Europe’s southern shores.
Meanwhile, authorities in Egypt said that three people died when a migrant boat attempting to reach Greece sank off its coast. They said 31 people were rescued.