Rescuers have managed to save a large number of migrants from the Mediterranean Sea, while also recovering at least 24 bodies of people who could not be saved at Libyan shores.
Volunteers with the international Red Crescent recovered the bodies, which had washed up on the shore in an eastern suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday.
“We began recovering bodies after receiving reports from the Libyan coastguard,” said Red Crescent member Hossam Nasr. “We started on Sunday and the search and recovery is still ongoing.”
“The total number of bodies recovered today is 24, it was difficult because of the terrain; but thank God with the efforts of everyone here, and all the volunteers, we did it,” he added
Some 5,000 other refugees were pulled to safety by emergency services, Italy’s navy, aid groups, and private boats on Monday and the rescue operations continued on Tuesday, an Italian coastguard spokesman said.
Authorities said the death toll was expected to increase.
Aid group Jugend Rettet (Rescuing Youth) said its ship reached the capacity limit even as more refugee boats were still being seen on the horizon.
Another aid group known as Sea Watch said it had never put so many rescued refugees and migrants on board its ship. The vessel was loaded on Monday by more than 300 men, 26 women — four of whom were pregnant — and 17 children, the group said.
More than 30 overloaded trafficking boats had left Libya for Europe on Sunday, according to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
Refugees and asylum seekers are packed onto unseaworthy boats and dinghies by smugglers in the hope of crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Europe. The boats are usually intercepted by European vessels once they enter international waters.
Half a million people, mainly sub-Saharan Africans, have managed to make the perilous sea journey from Libya and reach Italy over the past four years. About 13,000 others have drowned.
72,000 refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Italy from Libya between January and June this year alone. More than 2,000 also died en route, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Libya, in North Africa, has become a popular point of departure for refugees and asylum seekers from African and Middle Eastern countries.
Italy and the European Union in general have been trying to work with Libyan authorities to fight human smugglers, who take advantage of widespread lawlessness in Libya and send tens of thousands of people on highly dangerous voyages toward Europe.