Thousands of migrants rescued off Libyan coast by European ships
Published 29/08/2016 | 19:26
Thousands of migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast by Italian naval ships and vessels from non-government groups on Monday.
The operation was the latest surge in desperate attempts to flee to Europe driven by war, poverty, and human traffickers.
The dramatic operation took place just 13 miles north of the town of Sabratha in Libya.
Groups such as Proactiva Open Arms and Doctors Without Borders helped take on some 3,000 people who had been travelling in some 20 small wooden boats.
Migrants from Eritrea and Somalia cheered as the rescue boats arrived, with some jumping into the water and swimming toward them while others carefully carried babies on to the rescue ships.
Tens of thousands of Africans take the dangerous Mediterranean route as a gateway to a better life in Europe, alongside those fleeing wars from Syria to Afghanistan.
Libya's chaos and lack of border controls have made it into a transit route.
The country has sunk into lawlessness since the 2011 ousting and killing of long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, facing a myriad of militias vying for influence and an emerging Islamic State affiliate.
The European Union expanded its anti-smuggling operation in the central Mediterranean in June to include training Libyan coastal and naval forces.
These are intercepting boats and returning migrants to Libya, where some are being held in abusive conditions.
Rights groups and experts estimate that there are about 3,500 migrants held in roughly 20 official detention facilities across Libya.
Others are held in informal detention centres controlled by criminal gangs or armed groups.