Ships rescue 190 migrants bound for Europe off Libya
ON BOARD THE GEO BARENTS (AP) – Two ships rescued around 190 migrants bound for Europe, including women and children, off the coast of Libya, charities operating the ships said on Monday. The rescues came amid a spike in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
More than 24,000 migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya by the country’s coast guard so far this year, according to the United Nations migration agency. This is more than double the number in 2020, when around 11,890 migrants were brought ashore in the conflict-ridden country.
More than a thousand others are said to have drowned in the first half of the year, according to agency figures.
Migrants waved to rescuers from a fragile rubber dinghy at noon Monday before receiving life jackets and being transferred aboard the Geo Barents, a rescue vessel operated by the Doctors Without Borders charity. They numbered 54 in total, according to Barbara Deck, the organization’s project coordinator.
Among them were two dozen miners, six women and a 6-week-old baby, who was among the first to disembark crying, after being carefully placed in a large orange life jacket. The migrants’ original ship was packed with no shade and barely enough room for everyone on board to sit.
The migrants were not immediately available for comment. They were dispatched for a medical inspection by workers from the aid agency known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières. Some looked exhausted and smiled in relief after their rescue, along with some dancing and singing. Among them were migrants from African countries including Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Mali, Somalia and Burkina Faso, according to Deck.
It’s unclear why this year has seen so many crossings, but mid to late summer is usually a peak time for attempts on the Central Mediterranean route due to the good weather. Rescues along this route have become routine during the warmer months. Economic hardship, sometimes exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, is a driving force for many migrants.
Earlier today, the Geo Barents also rescued six men in a small fiberglass boat, including three Libyans, two Tunisians and one Moroccan. The men were trying to get off the rescue ship, MSF staff said.
The migrants told rescuers that the boat’s engine had stopped working, according to Mattijs Melsen, deputy search and rescue manager at MSF.
The Ocean Viking, which also works in the same area off Libya, has rescued around 130 migrants bound for Europe in the past three days, said Claire Juchat, communications officer for the charity SOS. Mediterranean, which operates the ship.
The migrants, including 44 children and 12 women, were on four separate boats, Juchat said. There were two migrants with critical health issues that the Italian coast guard evacuated along with four family members early on Monday, she said.
The remaining migrants will remain on board the two ships until the end of their missions, then they will be taken to Europe.
Libya has for years been a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries and hoping for a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into small, ill-equipped boats that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands of people drowned along the way. Some Libyan militiamen have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and kidnappings for ransom.
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