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3,000 refugees rescued off Libya coast: Italian coastguard



Some 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers have reportedly been rescued from unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast during a second day of operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Italian coastguard made the announcement on Saturday, saying that the refugees had been pulled to safety during 35 rescue operations launched in the day. It said another 15 operations would be underway before nightfall.

An official with the German NGO Jugend Rettet, which participated in the operations, said a further 1,000 people remained to be rescued from inflatable dinghies as rescue ships had reached capacity. She added that the number of incoming refugees was expected to rise owing to the fine spring weather.

Reports said most of the refugees were from sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing poverty and starvation there.

A day earlier, the Italian coastguard had carried out 19 rescue operations aided by NGOs, including the medical charity Doctors without Borders. A total of 2,074 refugees aboard 16 rubber rafts and three small wooden boats were taken to safety in those operations.

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Libya remains a major gateway for asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 450,000 people having made the crossing over the past three years.

Libyan Red Crescent volunteers are seen near the bodies of 74 refugees that were washed ashore, near Zawiyah, on Libya’s northern coast, on February 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 32,000 refugees have arrived in Europe so far this year. However, over 650 people have died or gone missing since January 1.

Last week, the United Nations raised concerns about the increasing number of the African refugees passing through Libya and being traded in slave markets.

Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. Many blame major European powers for the exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East, displacing the locals.

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