Day of rescues on the Mediterranean collects more than 2,000

19 May 2017By peggy

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SBS World News Radio: More than 2,000 migrants and refugees have been pulled off 22 wooden and rubber boats in a single day on the Mediterranean Sea.

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Another day at sea, another day of rescues.

At one point, 10 boats filled with people could be seen floating on the horizon just outside Libya's territorial waters, with the shoreline visible in the distance.

Two rigid-hulled inflatable boats were launched, and rescuers collected about 2,300 people from the overloaded rubber and wooden boats, taking them to a ship about 20 at a time.

In one case, 120 people were found in a rubber dinghy missing an engine and without fuel.

They say an unknown armed group stole both the engine and the fuel at sea.

This unidentified Sudanese migrant described the ordeal.

"We went out to sea at 2 in the morning, which is when the smugglers came to us, took the boat's engine and left us to die. Later, the Libyan coastguard found us and saved us, and I'm very happy about that."

Nigerians, Sudanese, Moroccans and Bangladeshis were among those rescued by the Aquarius, a ship operated by SOS Mediterranean and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Arrivals in Italy, where the rescued migrants are brought, are up 35 per cent on the same period last year.

Many have endured years-long journeys across the Sahara Desert to Libya, where they often fall into the hands of criminal groups who detain, extort, abuse, buy and sell them.

The lucky ones get onto boats and are rescued by European vessels.

Libyan Coastguard colonel Bahaar Fathy described probably the biggest rescue.

"120 migrants were rescued, including 105 men, 11 women and four children. Thankfully, we reached the boat in the nick of time before it was destroyed."

Italian interior minister Marco Minniti gave the Libyan coastguard four patrol boats this week that had been repaired in Italy.

It was part of a cooperation deal against people trafficking.

Libya has also asked Italy to arm the patrol boats.

The rescues come as the United Nations children's agency says more than 300,000 children have migrated alone around the world over a two-year period.

That represents a dramatic increase in a trend that has forced many young refugees into slavery and prostitution.

In Serbia, where one in three child refugees and migrants is unaccompanied, conditions remain tough.

They include people like this 17 year-old named Insah, from Afghanistan, who spent weeks travelling in the cold rain alone after leaving his family before reaching Serbia.

"It's too difficult for them and for me. No-one wants to leave his country, no-one wants to leave his parents, because, if parents are with you, everything is with you, if they are not with you, nothing is with you. But I miss my family and my ... too much."

About 46,000 migrants had reached the Italian coast this year even before the day of rescue operations, one-third above the same period last year.

More than 1,200 people have also drowned this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The latest wave of people picked up comes as Italy tightens security ahead of next week's G7 summit in Sicily.

The summit poses a challenge for the rescuers, because local authorities have banned migrants and refugees from disembarking at Sicilian ports.

Southern mainland ports and possibly Sardinia will instead take the strain.

 

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