Tue Aug 29, 2017 04:07PM
Refugees from Africa walk in line at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued by Libyan coast guards in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast on August 29, 2017. (AFP photo)
Refugees from Africa walk in line at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued by Libyan coast guards in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast on August 29, 2017. (AFP photo)

The Libyan coast guard has carried out three separate rescue missions off the western coasts, saving about 500 refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

A Libyan naval forces spokesman said on Tuesday that about half of the refugees were rescued off the two coasts of Tripoli and Sabratha.

They were mainly from the sub-Saharan countries although people from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia were also on board, the spokesman said.

“Coast guards rescued early morning today 140 illegal migrants west of Tripoli and another group of 164 migrants were rescued off Sabratha including seven women and six children,” said the spokesman.

Officials said another 150 refugees were rescued later in the day off Tripoli.

The rescues, almost large is size, are the latest to come from a refugee crisis that continues to grip North Africa and Southern Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of people have dared the risky journey through the central Mediterranean to the north to the Italian coasts over the past years.

The flow was overshadowed by even a bigger exodus that began to hit Europe’s eastern shores in 2015 as more than a million, mostly from war-torn countries of the Middle East, crossed into the continent from the Greek shores. A deal between Turkey and the European Union in March next year caused the Turkey-emanated flow to ebb but at the expense of a fresh surge in illegal travels in central Mediterranean.

Refugees from Africa receive food at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued by Libyan coast guards in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast on August 29, 2017. (AFP photo)

Libya has been the main embarkation point for refugee trips across the route as many parts of the country still suffer from lawlessness, which came after the ouster in 2011 of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Estimates by the UN-backed International Organization for Migration shows about 600,000 refugees have reached Italy by sea from North Africa since 2014, and more than 12,000 have drowned while trying.

Officials from Libya and two other African countries met European leaders in Paris, France, on Monday to discuss ways to support nations struggling to contain the flow of people. A mechanism has been agreed for the identification of the so-called legitimate refugees who really move out of their countries to escape war and prosecution. The process should be implemented under the supervision of United Nations representatives in Niger and Chad.