Images of rescue operation in the Mediterranean capture plight of those desperate to reach Europe – Patrick Kingsley Migration correspondent
Startling images have emerged of refugees being rescued off the coast of Libya, showing what has become an everyday occurrence in the southern Mediterranean Sea over the past three years.
Photographs show Italian rescuers coming to the aid of asylum seekers on a smuggling boat that was so overcrowded that several had been forced to dangle their legs over the side. During the commotion of the rescue, some leapt into the water to reach safety.
The images were taken during the rescue on Monday of approximately 6,500 people, many from Eritrea and Somalia, who had set off in wooden fishing boats a few hours earlier.
The Italian coastguard wrote on Twitter that its command centre coordinated 40 rescue operations, including vessels from Italy,humanitarian organisations as well as the EU’s border agency Frontex.
“We’ve been particularly busy today,” a spokesman for the coastguard told AFP. On Sunday more than 1,100 people were rescued in the same area.
The scenes highlight the dangerous tactics of Libyan smugglers, who put so many people on each repurposed fishing trawler that it is highly unlikely the migrants will reach Italy without being rescued by the charity boats and military missions operating in the area.
While the numbers migrating between Turkey and Greece has fallen substantially since March, after the completion of an agreement between the EU and Turkey, crossings between Libya and Italy remain at near-record levels.
More than 100,000 people have left north Africa for Italy so far this year, on a par with last year’s rate, and only slightly less than the record figures in 2014.
Most of the migrants this year are fleeing war and poverty in Nigeria and Ivory Coast, or dictatorships in Eritrea and Gambia. Others are migrant workers who hoped to make a living in Libya, but were forced to flee the country due to the civil war there, and the ensuing breakdown of law and order.
Migrants in Libya often work in conditions that amount to slave labour. Others are kidnapped for ransom, and many are tortured. In a recent interviewon a Mediterranean rescue ship, aid workers from Médecins Sans Frontières said the wounds that migrants bore were often indescribable.
“You can have the biggest imagination in the world, and you can’t imagine the kind of violence they’ve been subjected to,” Paola Mazzoni, an MSF doctor, said in June.
Without the money for a plane ticket home, thousands opt to make for Europe instead of journeying back through the Sahara to their countries of origin, in a deadly desert trekthat is considered even more dangerous than the voyage across the Mediterranean.