Thou­sands of mi­grants res­cued off Libya

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Emilio Morenatti

OFF THE COAST OF LIBYA — Ital­ian naval ships and ves­sels from non-gov­ern­ment groups res­cued thou­sands of mi­grants off the Libyan coast on Mon­day, the lat­est surge in des­per­ate at­tempts to flee to Europe driven by war, poverty and hu­man traf­fick­ers.

The dra­matic op­er­a­tion took place just 13 miles north of the town of Sabratha in Libya.

Groups such as Proac­tiva Open Arms and Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders helped take on some 3,000 peo­ple who had been trav­el­ing in about 20 small wooden boats.

In images and video by The As­so­ci­ated Press, mi­grants from Eritrea and So­ma­lia cheered as the res­cue boats ar­rived, with some jump­ing into the wa­ter and swim­ming to­ward them while oth­ers care­fully car­ried ba­bies onto the res­cue ships.

Tens of thou­sands of Africans take the dan­ger­ous Mediter­ranean Sea route as a gate­way to a bet­ter life in Europe, along­side those flee­ing wars from Syria to Afghanistan.

Libya’s chaos and lack of bor­der con­trols have made it into a tran­sit route. Since the 2011 ouster and killing of long­time Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi, the coun­try has sunk into law­less­ness, with myr­iad mili­tias vy­ing for in­flu­ence and an emerg­ing Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate.

In June, the Euro­pean Union ex­panded its anti- smug­gling op­er­a­tion in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean to in­clude train­ing Libyan coastal and naval forces, which are in­ter­cept­ing boats and re­turn­ing mi­grants to Libya, where some are be­ing held in abu­sive con­di­tions.

Rights groups and ex­perts es­ti­mate that there are about 3,500 mi­grants held in roughly 20 of­fi­cial de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties across Libya. Oth­ers are held in in­for­mal de­ten­tion cen­ters con­trolled by crim­i­nal gangs or armed groups. Mi­grants from Eritrea are res­cued Mon­day in the Mediter­ranean Sea about 13 miles north of Sabratha, Libya.

EMILIO MORENATTI/AP

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