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15th Dec 2018

Mediterranean rescuers save 6,500 migrants in one day

  • The IOM estimates some 275,000 people are waiting to leave for the EU from Libya (Photo: Sebastia Giralt)

One of the largest rescue operations in recent years unfolded on Monday (29 August) when some 6,500 people were scooped from the Mediterranean.

The Italian Coast Guard said in a tweet it had helped coordinate 40 rescue missions around 20km off the Libyan coastline.

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“We’ve been particularly busy today,” a spokesman for the coastguard told AFP.

The majority of the rescued migrants are said to be from places like Eritrea and Somalia. Children and babies, one just five days old, were among those rescued.

One rescue operator from Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish charity, tweeted that the 6,500 were plucked from one large boat, four small wooden boats, and 19 rubber boats.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the large boat contained up to 700 people.

Monday's rescues were carried by MSF, Proactiva Open Arms, the EU's border agency Frontex and the Italian navy.

The people have been taken to Italy to have their claims reviewed and processed.

Another 1,100 had been rescued on Sunday, also off the same Libyan coastline.

The sudden spike is due, in part, to the calm seas and warm weather.

It also points to broader issues of people fleeing persecution and conflict as well as the EU's struggle to smash the migrant smuggling cartels that operate in Libya.

Sophia, the EU's anti migrant-smuggling naval operation, had seized over 220 boats as of last October and delivered 82 suspected smugglers to Italian authorities. It has also helped in over 130 rescue efforts.

EU foreign ministers earlier this year had also expanded tasks run by Sophia to include training Libyan coastguard and navy. And Nato has also become more present in the area.

But the conflict-ridden country remains one of the main staging points for people hoping to reach Europe.

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says over 106,000 people have so far this year reached Italy. It estimates another 275,000 are waiting to disembark from Libya.

The high number of arrivals from the north African coast stands in contrast to the sharp drop in Greece from Turkey along the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route.

However, the Greek islands are now also registering an increase following the failed military coup in Turkey.

Greek authorities on Monday said the islands now host some 12,000 people, reports Kathimerini.

More than 3,000 people have died in their efforts to reach the EU by crossing the Mediterranean this year. The figure is a 50 percent increase compared with last year.

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

Migration was overshadowed by Brexit at the EU summit, with leaders stuck on key legislation. Some warned that free movement could be at risk.

EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues

Leaders at the EU summit are unlikely to discuss migration, preferring instead to rubber-stamp pre-cooked conclusions. Recent proposals by the European Commission to get some of the reforms finalised are also unlikely to get broad support. The two-year deadlock continues.

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