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Thousands trying to cross Mediterranean rescued off Libya coast

Italy's government says 16,206 people have been rescued in the sea by Friday [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 March, 2017

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Italy's coastguard rescued nearly 3,000 people off the coast of Libya as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Around 3,000 people were rescued off the coast of Libya on Sunday as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the Italian coastguard said.

"After some calm days, migrants are arriving in large numbers, taking advantage of a window of favourable weather," a coastguard official told AFP.

The rescue was undertaken in 22 separate operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard.

One participant was the Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors.

An MSF video showed three young children smiling and dancing on the ship to the sound of drumming.

The refugees rescued by the Aquarius had been found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats.

According to the Italian government, 16,206 people have been rescued in the sea by Friday – compared to 11,911 by the same time last year.

The latest rescues follow a record year for the number of people trying to reach Europe on the western Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy.

Some 181,000 people were registered at Italian ports in 2016, while the UNHCR recorded more than 5,000 deaths and presumed deaths on all migrant routes across the Mediterranean.

Despite the mid-winter weather making crossings particularly perilous, the start of 2017 has brought no sign of departures slowing with some 2,300 people already registered in Italy since 1 January.

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