Some 278 refugees have been rescued by the Libyan coastguard off the country’s western shores in the Mediterranean Sea. The spokesman of Libyan naval forces, Ayoub Qaseed, said Monday that rescue operations took place off the shores of Zawiya and Sabratha, two towns west of the capital Tripoli.
He said 128 people had been rescued near Zawiya refinery about 23 kilometers off the coast while 150 other refugees were rescued off Sabratha. There was no immediate report about potential deaths from drowning while it was not clear when the refugees had set off their journey.
Zawiya and Sabratha, along the town of Zuwarah, are common embarkation points for refugees trying to cross the central Mediterranean to the north to reach European shores in Italy. The refugees often use flimsy boats provided by smugglers.
Thousands have been killed on the route over the past two years, but the chaos in Libya continues to push more people to take the risky journey. Qaseed said most of those rescued in the operations off the Libyan coast were from sub-Saharan African countries while one from Bangladesh and two from Egypt were also among the refugees.
The surge in cross-Mediterranean refugee travels is also linked to restrictions introduced in eastern parts of the sea by the European Union and Turkey. The two sides reached a historic deal in March 2016 after more than a million refugees from Syria and other countries of the Middle East region arrived on Greek shores. The EU has tried to work out a similar mechanism with Libya, but the project has mostly failed due to the limited authority of the government in Tripoli.