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Nearly 1,000 refugees rescued in Mediterranean

A joint rescue effort by humanitarian organizations, Frontex and the Italian coast guard saved six boats off the coast of Libya. Close to 500 people have died while trying to cross from Africa to Italy so far this year.

Italy's coast guard rescued roughly 970 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday in a joint rescue mission with humanitarian groups and the EU border agency Frontex. The migrants were crammed into four rubber dinghies, a small wooden boat and a larger wooden boat.

On its official Twitter account, the coast guard wrote that six search and rescue (SAR) operations had saved the boats that were in distress off the coast of Libya. The coast guard said it had coordinated the rescue missions with a Norwegian vessel manned by EU border agency Frontex and two ships under the command of aid organizations SOS Mediterranee, Doctors without Borders and Proactiva Open Arms Spain.

Early on Thursday, SOS Mediterranee tweeted that it helped save 101 people, hailing mostly from Bangladesh.

On Thursday night, they wrote that 89 more people had been saved from a "wooden boat in bad shape" during "choppy seas."

Over 13,000 people have reached Italy's shores this year. Every year, hundreds of thousands of refugees try to make their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Human traffickers often cram hundreds of refugees into small boats unfit for long trips or rough weather. The trip is always dangerous, but particularly so in the winter, when the sea is at its most treacherous.

More than 440 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross to Europe from Libya in January and February of this year alone, according to the United Nations. In 2016, over 5,000 migrants died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. 

Libya, in relatively close proximity to Italy's island of Lampedusa, is a hotspot for traffickers. Since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, authorities have only been in control of sections of the country's vast coastline.

Many EU countries are currently considering new measures aimed to keep migrants out of the EU, alarming humanitarian groups that people stranded in or sent back to Libya may suffer mistreatment.

mb/sms (AFP, dpa)

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