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Italian Coast Guard saves thousands in Mediterranean

April 15, 2017

The coast guard and other groups have saved migrants one day after nearly 100 were feared drowned following a shipwreck. Some groups are calling for more help from the EU.

Libyen Mittelmeer - Flüchtlinge von Schlauchboot gerettet
Image: Reuters/D. Zammit Lupi

Rescuers pull thousands from Mediterranean

The migrant crisis is not abating. The Italian Coast Guard announced Friday that it, along with several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), saved 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three wooden boats.

Though some of the rescued sang songs of joy, according to a tweet from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), one teenager was found dead in a rubber dinghy.

The Italian Coast Guard, MSF boats, the Maltese organization MOAS, the German NGO Sea Eye and the German Jugend's Iuventa all contributed to Friday's rescue efforts. The rescued migrants were transferred to Italian Coast Guard ships to be taken to Italian ports.

Dangerous crossings continue

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya has been a popular route for migrants from the Middle East and northern Africa to reach Europe. Harsh weather and sea conditions make the crossing very dangerous in the flimsy, overcrowded boats.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 24,000 migrants traveled by boat from Libya to Italy during the first three months of 2017, which is higher than the 18,000 migrants during the same period in 2016. The International Organization for Migration said in March at least 590 migrants had died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the start of the year.

During Friday's rescue, MSF tweeted: "The sea continues to be a graveyard." The UN said in January more than 5,000 migrants had died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in 2016, a record high. Friday's rescue comes one day after at least 97 migrants were feared dead following a shipwreck off the coast of Libya.

EU border control agency Frontex has accused donor-supported ships off the coast of Libya of acting "like taxis" for migrants and doing more harm than good. Italian prosecutors have accused these groups of having ties to traffickers, a charge that the groups deny.

MSF was critical of Frontex's lack of support, tweeting: "How many people would have crossed if we weren't there today, Frontex? Probably the same. How many would have died? Probably, many more."

kbd/bw (AFP, Reuters)