More than 1,000 refugees rescued off Libya’s coast

Since the EU and Turkey have stopped boats from setting off for Greece, Italy has become the main gateway to Europe. Last year, more than 65,000 refugees arrived there.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A rescue team member cuts the migrants' dinghy after the rescue operation by "Save the Children" NGO crew from the ship Vos Hestia in the Mediterranean sea off Libya coast, June 15, 2017.

Humanitarian rescue ships picked up more than 1,000 migrants from nine rubber and wooden boats off the coast of Libya on Thursday, Italy's coast guard said.

The Vos Hestia, operated by Save the Children, rescued more than 100 migrants, most of them from Bangladesh, from a rubber dinghy about 21 miles off the coast of Libya in international waters.

Earlier on Thursday, another non-governmental group, Proactiva Open Arms, said Libyan coast guard officials fired into the air as an act of intimidation while it was rescuing 11 people from a small boat.

No one was injured and the migrants were taken on board the humanitarian vessel. The Libyan coast guard was not immediately available to comment.

Arrivals of migrants to Italy are up almost 18 percent on the same period last year, more than 65,000, Italy's Interior Ministry said.

Since the European Union and Turkey agreed to shut down boat migrants setting off for Greece last year, Italy is Europe's main entry point for refugees and migrants. A record 181,000 migrants arrived on Italy's shores last year.

Smugglers, who operate with impunity in Libya, cram migrants onto unseaworthy boats and send them toward international waters, where humanitarian ships come to their aid.

All of Thursday's rescues were performed by NGOs, Italy's coast guard said.

TRTWorld and agencies