UN warns that 235,000 refugees waiting in Libya to cross to Italy
At least 235,000 migrants and refugees are on the coast of Libya waiting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, a United Nations official has warned.
"We have on our lists 235,000 migrants who are just waiting for a good opportunity to depart for Italy, and they will do it," said Martin Kobler, the head of a UN mission that is seeking to bring peace and stability to the North African country, which is divided by rival governments, militias and Isil.
The only way to stop the exodus is to bring together Libya's competing factions and vanquish Isil in their stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, he told 'La Stampa', an Italian newspaper.
Libya needs a strong army, police and coast guard to be able to take on the smuggling gangs who make millions of euro trafficking men, women and children across the sea to the shores of Italy.
Isil's position is being steadily eroded after a months-long assault by Libyan forces. "Very soon, Isil will no longer have control over territory in Libya," Mr Kobler said.
"This is quite encouraging and could give hope to the country. At the same time, however, we need to stay vigilant, because terrorism is not finished and Isil's militants will try to disperse to other regions."
So far this year, more than 128,000 migrants have reached Italy from the North African coast, straining to the limit Italy's capacity to accommodate them and process their asylum applications.
Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord, which is based in the capital, Tripoli, is struggling to assert its authority. It is opposed by a rival administration based in the east of the country, which is supported by General Khalifa Haftar.
Attempts by his forces to secure oil installations are "very worrying", Mr Kobler said.
Fighting for control of the nation's oil wells has renewed fears of a civil war in Libya, five years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator.
Migrants continue to die with tragic regularity as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded rubber dinghies and decrepit fishing boats.
Already this week the crew of the Irish naval ship LÉ James Joyce recovered five dead bodies from vessels that were intercepted north of the Libyan coast. Working with ships from the Italian navy and a privately-run rescue boat, they managed to save the lives of around 650 people.
Two reports released yesterday highlighted the immense scale of the refugee and migrant crisis. The United Nations refugee agency reported that of the world's six million refugee children, fewer than half are in school. Of those, nearly 900,000 are Syrian children, their lives shattered by their country's civil war.
"This represents a crisis for millions of refugee children," said the UNHCR's Filippo Grandi. His comments came ahead of the first-ever UN summit on refugees and migrants, to be held in New York on Monday.
The following day there will be a conference, hosted by President Barack Obama, in which countries will be encouraged to pledge more aid to help refugees around the world.
On average, refugees are displaced from their home countries for about 20 years, Mr Grandi said.
"As the international community considers how best to deal with the refugee crisis, it is essential that we think beyond basic survival," he said.
So many children are being wrenched from their normal lives that an additional 12,000 classrooms and 20,000 teachers are needed each year. (©Daily Telegraph London)