Italy’s coastguard and vessels from other European nations have pulled 13,000 refugees from barely seaworthy and overcrowded boats off the Libyan coast in the mere space of four days.
Traffickers are taking advantage of the calm summer weather, piling refugees on to flimsy boats when the sea is more placid so that the southern wind can push them into international waters.
However, the flimsy rubber dinghies that are often used become highly unstable in high seas.
The Italian coastguard estimated that 6,500 people, believed to be mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, were rescued on Monday alone.
More than 400,000 have successfully made the voyage to Italy from North Africa since the beginning of 2014, fleeing violence and poverty.
Libya has suffered turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, with a number of revolutionary militias – formed along regional and ideological lines – vying for power.
The country’s lawlessness has opened the way for smugglers to ship thousands of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean in days.
‘Rather die at sea’
Some individuals fleeing the ongoing conflict told Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that their experiences in Libya were so traumatic that they would “rather die at sea” than return to the region.
Many of those crammed in boats are from vulnerable communities, including the sick, elderly and unaccompanied young.
In fact, more unaccompanied minors have been rescued this year than in all of 2015.
“The number of unaccompanied minors who have arrived since the beginning of this year is more than 14,700. In the whole of last year, 12,300 arrived,” Giovanna Di Benedetto from Save The Children told Al Jazeera.
“Children of eight, nine and 10 years have faced – on their own – the most dangerous part of the whole journey: the Mediterranean route. More than 3,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean this year,” she added.
Italy has been on the frontline of Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis for three years.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 284,000 people have made it to Europe this year. Of that figure, 112,000 account for those arriving in Italy.