Italy rescues 484 people from the Mediterranean

Seven bodies also recovered on Saturday as refugees and migrants were trying to cross into Europe on four rubber boats.

Rescuers of MOAS hand out life jackets to migrants on board a rubber dinghy in the central Mediterranean north of Sabratha on the Libyan coast
More than 1,200 people have died trying to cross into Italy this year [File: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters]

Seven bodies were recovered and 484 people were rescued from boats in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to cross into Europe, Italy‘s coastguard said.

The Italian coastguard, navy, an aid group, and two private vessels rescued the refugees and migrants, who were travelling on four rubber boats, on Saturday, the coastguard said in a statement.

No details were given of the origins of asylum seekers. But most arriving in Italy are from Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh and pay Libya-based smugglers to organise their passage. 

Refugees in Libya: ‘Smugglers have lost all humanity’

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 45,000 people have reached Italy by boat from North Africa this year – an almost 40 percent increase from 2016.

The new deaths add to a toll of 1,222 on the route as of May 10, compared with 966 by the same date last year, according to the IOM.

The pace of migrant crossings is expected to increase as the weather improves. The sea channel between Italy and Libya is the world’s busiest and most dangerous sea migration route.

Human traffickers appear to be running rampant and smugglers often extort money and hold people for ransom.

In addition, organisations assisting asylum seekers say that the smugglers’ methods have become increasingly brutal with people reporting cases of rape, beatings and forced labour.

READ MORE: Nearly 200 asylum seekers feared dead off Libya coast

A senior official in the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli said that his administration was ready to create a new guard to patrol the country’s chaotic southern border, but it would only be possible to secure the frontier if other countries helped.

“If we don’t resolve southern Libya’s problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue. The difficult economic situation in that region pushes a lot of young people to work for the traffickers,” said Abdulsalam Kajman, vice president of the Libyan government headed by Fayez Saraj.

“Libya primarily needs administrative and logistical help. Marco Minniti [Italian Minister of the Interior] has told us that Italy is ready to dispatch mobile hospitals, but we need other countries and the EU to lend a hand too.” 

More than 8,300 refugees rescued in Mediterranean in three days

Source: News Agencies