Fears rise of new mi­grant surge from Libya as 600 res­cued

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

MI­LAN: Some 600 mi­grants res­cued at sea ar­rived Fri­day in Si­cily – one of the big­gest in­fluxes since Italy struck a deal with Libyan au­thor­i­ties to limit mi­grant smug­gling – rais­ing con­cerns of a re­newed surge on the Libyan hu­man traf­fick­ing route.

The mi­grants, in­clud­ing many un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors from sub­Sa­ha­ran Africa, were res­cued in seven op­er­a­tions over 36 hours, and trans­ported Fri­day to Palermo by the Ger­man non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion SOS Mediter­ra­nee.

They came as three weeks of fight­ing around the Libyan city of Sabratha has desta­bi­lized mili­tias that pledged to help re­duce the flow of mi­grant smug­gling across the Mediter­ranean Sea, leav­ing many mi­grants and refugees dis­placed.

SOS Mediter­ra­nee Pres­i­dent Va­le­ria Ca­lan­dra told Sky TG24 that the re­newed in­sta­bil­ity in Libya has only in­creased the de­sire of mi­grants to es­cape the law­less North African coun­try.

“It was very im­prob­a­ble that from to­day to to­mor­row you can stop ev­ery­one,” she said. “I think this res­cue is the first of many oth­ers that will ar­rive.”

The num­ber of mi­grants dropped dra­mat­i­cally in July and Au­gust, be­fore an uptick from 3,914 in Au­gust to 6,288 in Septem­ber. Still, Septem­ber ar­rivals were two-thirds below last year’s to­tal for the same month, and the 2,800 ar­rivals so far this month are well below the 12,400 in the same pe­riod last year.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Rome, Fed­erico Fossi, says it’s too early to say what is driv­ing the re­cent uptick and if it will be sus­tained. He noted that even the deal with Libyan forces to stanch the flow of mi­grants never fully stopped the smug­glers’ boats.

“In last few days, there has been a light in­crease. We need to see over the medium-term if there is a new trend,” he said.

The UNHCR said Fri­day that fierce clashes over the last three weeks near Sabratha, some 80 kilo­me­ters west of Tripoli, have stranded 3,000 Libyan fam­i­lies, most of whom have since re­turned home, and dis­placed more than 10,000 refugees and mi­grants, who re­main “in need of ur­gent as­sis­tance.”

Af­ter tak­ing con­trol of de­ten­tion cen­ters that had been run by mi­grant traf­fick­ers, Libyan au­thor­i­ties trans­ferred 4,500 mi­grants to a hangar in the Dah­man area and oth­ers to de­ten­tion cen­ters near Tripoli, the refugee agency said.

UNHCR said it was send­ing emer­gency as­sis­tance in­clud­ing sleep­ing bags, hy­giene kits, food and blan­kets to Libya. Many mi­grants were found with­out cloth­ing or shoes, had suf­fered in­juries re­quir­ing ur­gent med­i­cal care or were se­verely trau­ma­tized and in need of psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port, the refugee agency said.

“Over­all, our team on the ground paint a very grim pic­ture,” UNHCR said. –

A res­cued man dis­em­barks from the Aquarius ship of SOS Mediter­ra­nee upon its ar­rival in Palermo.

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