3,000 migrants said rescued off Libya coast Saturday

ROME — The Italian coastguard and other boats rescued some 3,000 migrants from unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast on Saturday, as the numbers of those attempting to reach Europe from Africa rises amid good weather, a participating NGO said.

In all, 35 rescue operations were launched during the day, with 15 of them still underway as night fell, the coastguard said.

German NGO Jugend Rettet, which took part in the rescue operations on Saturday, said 3,000 people had been plucked to safety during a particularly busy day due to the calm spring weather in the Mediterranean.

Jugend Rettet spokeswoman Pauline Schmidt told AFP that a further 1,000 people remained to be rescued from inflatable dinghies and other craft, with the rescue ships reaching capacity.

Other, mainly non-governmental, boats were expected to arrive in the area to help the rescue operations, she said. “We have never had to deal with so many people at the same time.”

On Friday, rescue vessels worked tirelessly to rescue over 2,000 people from flimsy dinghies.

The Italian coast guard and five privately-run rescue boats plucked migrants from 16 overcrowded dinghies and three wooden vessels packed with people hoping to make a new life for themselves in Europe.

African migrants whose boat sank off the Libyan coast gather upon their rescue at the Tripoli branch of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, in the Libyan capital on April 13, 2017. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

The European Union’s border control agency Frontex has accused donor-funded vessels of doing more harm than good by sailing off Libya and acting “like taxis,” and Italian prosecutors have suggested they may have links with traffickers — a charge they have fiercely denied.

Distressing images of African migrants being plucked from heaving seas or the coffin-strewn aftermath of major sinkings have become a regular feature of television news bulletins since the migrant crisis began spiraling out of control four years ago.

So far this year, 666 people have been logged as dead or missing off the Libyan coast.

However that figure is well down on the death rate seen last year when more than 5,000 people perished, according to the International Organization of Migration.

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