ROME, May 7, (AFP): Some 6,000 migrants hoping to head to Europe were rescued in the Mediterranean on Friday and Saturday in dozens of frantic operations coordinated by the Italian coastguard. Some 3,000 were picked up Saturday by the navy, coastguard, EU border agency Frontex and several NGOs, the coastguard said in a statement. Some of them have already been taken to shore in Italy while others, including 730 onboard a ship operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), were on their way. The Libyan coastguard told AFP it had picked up around 170 migrants off Tripoli on Saturday, but had failed to rescue others “due to a lack of means”.
The rescues came a day after around 3,000 others were found fl oating in rubber boats and on makeshift rafts after having left Libya, heading towards Italy. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) meanwhile said fishermen had rescued 371 migrants Friday off the coast of the Libyan town of Zuwara. Italy and Libya have moved to boost cooperation in recent months in order to cut the number of people risking their lives by attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
The Italian government said in a deal signed with Libya in February that it would offer manpower as well as technical assistance to the Libyan coastguard. Rome said this week that it had delivered two speedboats to Libya at the end of last month, with eight more due by the end of June. Some 37,000 people, many of them sub-Saharan Africans, have arrived in Italy from Libya since the start of the year — a figure some thirty percent higher than a year earlier, according to the Italian interior ministry. More than 4,500 migrants died or were missing and feared drowned in 2016, and another 1,000 have met the same fate this year.
Meanwhile, over 500 migrants who were trying to cross the Mediterranean in several small boats that were in danger of capsizing have been rescued at sea, a Spanish aid organization said Sunday. Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza says the Golfo Azzurro, a former fishing trawler the group operates, plucked 514 migrants from over a dozen rubber and wooden boats during a 24-hour period from Saturday to Sunday morning. The people rescued were refugees fleeing the war in Syria and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who had set sail from Libya, according to Lanuza.
The rescue boat was filled to capacity and headed for an Italian port since the weather was turning bad, she said. The Golfo Azzurro was operating as part of an NGO rescue fleet coordinated by the Italian coast guard. Also on Sunday, Spain’s maritime rescue service said a rescue boat and helicopter worked together to save three migrants in a small vessel found 4 kilometers ( 2- miles) off the Spanish coast. Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats in hopes of a better life in Europe, but thousands die each year trying. Libya is one of the prime launching points.
On Saturday, a Spanish navy frigate rescued another 651 migrants off the coast of Libya. In related news, a Belgium-based group of refugee musicians has banded together in an orchestra that blends musical infl uences as diverse as their home countries from Syria to Tibet. The “Refugees for Refugees” project run by Belgian music school Muziekpublique aims to highlight the cultures of the refugees’ homelands and raise money for refugees with concerts and an album.
The orchestra’s 10 members — all Belgium-based refugees — are musicians from countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tibet. One of the musicians, Asad Qizilbash of Pakistan, was a well-known player of the sarod, a stringed instrument with roots in Afghanistan. But he fl ed his country in 2010 after militant groups vandalised his music school and threatened him. He was granted refugee status in Belgium in 2012.