Thousands of migrants are flocking on the western coast of Libya to attempt the perilous crossing to Europe, taking advantage of the good weather before the arrival of autumn and the authorities’ inability to control the borders of a country in chaos.
So far, nearly 10,000 people have been rescued since Monday off Libya in operations coordinated by the Italian coast guard, who carry out from Rome all rescue missions north of Libyan territorial waters.
Libya and its 1770 kilometers of coastline have become a hub of illegal immigration in the absence of border control. Migrants have been trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is located only a little more than 300 kilometers off the Libyan coast.
Monday was one of the busiest days in recent years in the Mediterranean, where departures of migrants from Libya multiply when the sea is calm and a south wind pushes makeshift boats to international waters.
Race against time
The influx of migrants on Italian shores has accelerated in recent days thanks to improved weather conditions, Abdelhamid Sui, head of the Libyan Red Crescent said.
“It’s like a race against time as illegal migrants fear the arrival of autumn, where conditions are not conducive to shipping,” he says.
The number of arrivals in Italy from the beginning of the year stands at about 112,500, slightly below the 116,000 recorded between January and August last year. At the same time, the crossing has killed more than 3,100 people, according to the UN.
Almost all of these migrants from West Africa or the Horn of Africa depart from the city of Sabratha (northwest) in often dilapidated and overloaded boats, risking their lives.
Located halfway between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, Sabratha is much closer to the Libyan capital of Italian coasts, and thus for the smugglers an ideal place for departures to Italy.
“Our patrols have reduced lately because our fleet have aged and we do not have the means to control the coast of Sabratha,” laments Colonel Ayoub Qassem, Tripoli spokesman of the Libyan Navy.
The City Council of Sabratha, located 70 km west of Tripoli and in the national unity government control (GNA) had sounded the alarm that the area had become “a center for human trafficking and illegal immigration. “
Trafficking human beings
But the GNA, installed since late March in Tripoli and supported by the UN, barely established its authority throughout the territory. It is also already engaged since May on the front lines of the fight against jihadists in Sirte, a former stronghold of the Islamic State group (IS).
The power struggle between rival factions and authorities in Libya and the inability of the RNG to fight illegal migration opened the way for human trafficking, said an official with the Libyan Red Crescent to Sabratha.
“There are parties who profit from this traffic as the Tripoli authorities are concerned in particular by fighting against the IS,” said an official, who requested anonymity.
The smugglers, “often armed, are linked to an international network of trafficking of human beings that is active in Libya in neighboring African countries and extends to Europe, the official adds.
Between June and August, more than 800 African migrants who wanted to reach Europe through Libya and a group of smugglers were arrested in Sudan, a transit country, Sudanese security services officials said Tuesday.
Since June, hundreds of drowned migrants bodies were spotted on Libyan beaches, said Abdelhamid Sui.
Faced with absent authorities due to lack of resources, civil society associations and people have begun to bury the bodies spotted near the coast to prevent the spread of disease risk and epidemics, he adds.