CAIRO (AP) — Libya’s coast guard has rescued three groups of more than 520 African migrants, including at least 10 women and 49 children, and recovered four bodies in the Mediterranean Sea east of the capital, Tripoli, over two days, a spokesman said Thursday.
One group of some 300 people embarked on the perilous trip for Europe on rubber boats but their engines broke down, coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim said in a statement, adding the rescue operation was “very exhausting” for the coast guard due to limited resources and the large number of migrants.
Another group of some 140 migrants, whose bought was damaged, were also rescued and three bodies were recovered, the coast guard said in a separate Thursday statement.
In a statement late Wednesday, the coast guard said it had rescued around 80 other people and recovered one body in a separate incident in which a migrant boat was damaged, forcing people to remain at sea for about four hours before the coast guard arrived.
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All migrants were given humanitarian and medical aid, and were handed over to anti-migration authorities, Gassim said.
Libya has emerged as a major transit point to Europe for those fleeing poverty and civil war elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East. Traffickers have exploited Libya’s chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Libyan authorities have stepped up efforts to stem the flow of migrants, with assistance from European countries, who are eager to slow a phenomenon that far-right wing parties have seized upon to gain electoral support.
Earlier this month, the interior minister in Italy’s new populist government, Matteo Salvini, refused a port of entry to a rescue boat operated by two aid groups carrying 630 people picked up while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.
The United Nations migration agency says more than 850 migrants have died while attempting the Mediterranean crossing since the start of 2018, down from some 2,100 deaths during the same period in 2017. The agency also estimates more 40,000 migrants to have reached Europe since January compared to over 80,000 over the same period in 2017.