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Thousands of Mediterranean migrants rescued

May 20, 2017

More than 2,100 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean and are heading to Italy. Warmer weather has encouraged even more human traffickers in Libya to launch unseaworthy boats packed with migrants toward Europe.

Italien - Flüchtlingsboote - Mittelmeer
These refugees and migrants were picked up by NGO MOAS on May 18Image: Getty Images/C. McGrath

Among those rescued Friday and early Saturday was a 6-week-old baby, the Italian coast guard said. The baby and six other people were taken by speedboat to medical facilities. One body was recovered.

The more than 2,100 migrants were picked up from 17 different rubber and wooden boats intercepted near the Libyan coast, with rescue operations conducted by the Italian coast guard, a Spanish navy ship, two cargo ships and vessels operated by several NGOs.

Italy's interior ministry said that arrivals of people seeking refuge so far this year are up by 35 percent compared with the same period in 2016. During the whole of last year 180,000 migrants landed in the southern European country.

Read more: Rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean call for more support

Many of the people taking the so-called central Mediterranean route to seek refuge in Europe in recent months have come from sub-Saharan Africa via Libya, where years of political turmoil have meant people smugglers can act with impunity. Traffickers crowd the paying migrants - many of whom are fleeing war, conflict and poverty - into unseaworthy boats showing scant regard for their safety.  

According to the International Organization for Migration, the average death rate for people crossing the Mediterranean in this way is one in 39. More than 1,200 migrants are known to have died attempting the journey so far this year alone.

The rescues announced Saturday follow other operations earlier in the week which resulted in thousands more migrants being brought to Italy.

On board a refugee rescue ship

se/jlw (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)