Approximately 6,500 migrants were rescued during 40 separate operations off the coast of Libya yesterday, the Italian Coastguard has said.
These figures represent the largest single influx of migrants into Europe in a day this year.
Most, who witnesses reported being packed on to unstable craft, some even balanced on flimsy rubber dinghies, were rescued by a combination of Italy’s Coastguard, humanitarian organisations and the EU’s border agency Frontex.
Many had boarded re-purposed fishing vessels, often with only enough gasoline to make it 15-20 miles out to sea where they could hold their positions and await rescue, the Telegraph reported.
Despite the dramatic reduction in migrant passages between Turkey and Europe, 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, equal to last year’s numbers and only marginally down on the record figures in 2014. According to data from the International Organization for Migration released on Friday an estimated 2,726 men, women and children have died so far this year.
Many of the boats used by smugglers are bought from local fishermen at little notice before making the hazardous trip across the Mediterranean to Italy. According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, the smuggling networks in Libya include a wide range of participants, ranging from ordinary Libyan citizens to former militiamen and law enforcement officers seeking to profit from the migrants’ plight.
Moreover, due to the increasingly profitable nature of people smuggling between Libya and Italy, competition among the groups has become intensified, posing even greater risks to migrants as corners are cut even further and more people crammed onto already ill suited boats. Some speak of cruel and aggressive smugglers forcing larger numbers of people onto the rubber boats, often at gunpoint, to squeeze more money from each trip.
According to Frontex, the logistical chain involved in people smuggling in Libya suggests a high degree of organisational skills, indicating the involvement of people with experience in running large scale operations. As of August this year, Italian authorities have been investigating the possible involvement of ISIS, (Daesh) in operating and managing aspects of Libya’s migrant smuggling industry.
Approximately 1,100 migrants were rescued in the Strait of Sicily on Sunday, the coast guard said. More refugees are expected to set sail this week because of favorable weather conditions.