At least 1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe by sea in the first six months of this year.
German NGO Sea-Watch says it rescued nearly 100 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean overnight, many of whom were injured, some with severe “fuel burns” – chemical burns caused by exposure to gasoline mixed with seawater.
Late on Thursday, the vessel Sea-Watch 3 rescued 33 migrants and refugees from two boats which had been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in the search and rescue zone of the Mediterranean assigned to Malta, the organisation said in a Twitter post early on Friday morning.
Among them were nine unaccompanied children, of which three were very young, and a woman who was seven months pregnant.
Those rescued came from South Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali, according to a Reuters news agency witness on board the Sea-Watch 3.
Many migrants and refugees were already on a coast guard ship but jumped into the sea when they saw the NGO vessel approach, according to the witness. All were brought on board the Sea-Watch 3 by its crew.
33 people were safely transferred to the #SeaWatch3, including three infants and several minors. The Libyan vessel left the scene carrying more people captured during a previous interception.
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) July 29, 2021
In a second operation at dawn on Friday, Sea-Watch 3 rescued more than 60 people from an overcrowded wooden boat within the Libyan search and rescue zone. Many of them were children, Sea-Watch said.
Most of the rescued were Libyans, according to the Reuters witness.
Sea-Watch said six people were in “critical condition” and added it had requested Italian and Maltese officials organise an “urgent medical evacuation” of the individuals and their families.
Three of those injured were children, with severe burns, the NGO added.
“Italy and Malta are shifting the responsibility to each other at the expense of those who are suffering,” it said.
It was not immediately clear if Italian or Maltese officials had responded to the NGO’s requests.
Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.
Many rely on smugglers and risk their lives on the perilous sea journey in overcrowded boats.
According to the United Nations’ migration agency, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have died this year in the Mediterranean.
The Central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy has been the deadliest so far this year, claiming 741 lives.
Next is the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and Spain’s Canary Islands, where at least 250 people have died, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Italy and the European Union have for years been financing, training and providing aid to Libya’s coastguard to stop smugglers from taking migrants and refugees in flimsy boats across the Mediterranean to Europe.
But the coastguard has faced numerous accusations of appalling mistreatment of asylum seekers, and charities and human rights groups have severely criticised the arrangement.