LIBYA’S coastguard has rescued nearly 1,000 migrants who were on boats in distress in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe, the navy said on Monday.
Three separate operations took place on Sunday with the coastguard bringing ashore in Libya a total of 948 migrants, navy spokesman Ayoub Kacem said.
The migrants were on inflatable dinghies which were facing difficulties in the Mediterranean off the coast of Garabulli east of the capital Tripoli, navy officer Rami Ghommeidh said.
A first group of 97 migrants were rescued, while a second operation brought 361 migrants — including 88 women and 44 children — ashore and late in the evening a final group of 490 migrants were rescued, said Kacem.
In all a total of 2,000 migrants trying to make the perilous journey to Europe, often on unseaworthy boats, were either intercepted or assisted by the Libyan navy since Wednesday.
Monday’s announcement by the navy came as Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was en route to Libya for talks on the migrant crisis.
Salvini, who has vowed a hardline stance on migrants, posted a selfie on Twitter showing him on board a military plane heading for Libya and wrote: “Mission Libya, we’ve left!”.
He is the first member of Italy’s new populist government to visit the North African country, a former Italian colony.
On Sunday Salvini ordered foreign charities to stop rescuing migrants off Libya even as reports emerged of that a group of nearly 1,000 were on boats in distress in the Mediterranean.
“Let the Libyan authorities do their work of rescue, recovery and return (of migrants) to their country, as they have been doing for some time, without the ships of the voracious NGOs disturbing them or causing trouble,” he said.
Later on Sunday the Italian interior minister thanked Libyan authorities for rescuing migrants trapped at sea.
“I would like to express my heartfelt thanks, as a minister and as a father, to the authorities and the Libyan coastguard,” he said in a tweet.
“Today they saved and brought 820 immigrants back to Libya, making the ‘work’ of the traffickers in vain and avoiding wrongful interventions by NGO ships,” he added.
Libya is a key departure point for thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe, although hundreds drown each year attempting the crossing.