6,000 rescued between Libya and Italy in last few days
Sligo doctor assists with rescue of 946 migrants, a record for Médecins Sans Frontières vessel
Migrants on a sinking dinghy off the Libyan coastal town of Zawiyah, east of the capital, on March 20th. Photograph: Abdullah Elgamoudi/AFP/Getty Images
Libyan fishermen rescue a migrant from a sinking dinghy off the Libyan coast on March 20th. Photograph: Abdullah Elgamoudi/AFP/Getty Images
Dr Conor Kenny, from Rosses Point, Co Sligo, a doctor with medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières who helped in the weekend rescue of migrants from the Mediterranean north of Libya. Photograph: SOS MED/MSF
“We have yet to complete March, and we are already racing at a pace of arrivals that has exceeded anything we’ve seen before in the Mediterranean,” said IOM spokesman Joel Millman. “This is typical of spring, getting very busy, but it’s not typical to have the numbers be so high this early and the corresponding deaths that go with it.”
Millman said 500 people are believed to have drowned or been killed so far this year trying to make the journey, compared to a total of 159 on the route last year.
Among those involved in the weekend rescues was Dr Conor Kenny, from Rosses Point, Co Sligo, a doctor with medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières who works on board the MV Aquarius.
The boat, which is which is run in partnership with SOS Mediterranée, picked up 946 people - including more than 170 unaccompanied minors and 120 women - in a series of nine separate rescues off the Libyan coast on Saturday night and Sunday.
The number of migrants taken from the water in a 24-hour period is a record for the vessel and, with almost 1,000 people aboard as it headed for Italy, it carried more then twice its design capacity of 400 people, Médecins Sans Frontières said.
Speaking on a ship’s phone from the MV Aquarius, which docked at the EU migrant reception centre in Sicily on Tuesday, Dr Kenny said the vessel had encountered the migrants on nine separate “rafts” in a “search and rescue zone” off Libya.
He told The Irish Times those who were rescued were being treated for dehydration and exhaustion. A substantial number also had burn wounds as a result of a mixture of salt water, sunlight and diesel fuel on their skin.
He said typical injuries would include those consistent with beatings and he had been told by one man on a recent rescue that the Libyan Coast Guard had intercepted him, detained him and physically abused him, before releasing him to try and make the crossing again.
Dr Kenny qualified in London and is completing a second “mission” with MSF having assisted last year on the Greek islands.
Italian and European officials said this week they are ready to send equipment and economic aid to Libya to help fight traffickers who have thrived in a power vacuum left by the 2011 overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
So far this year, 16,248 migrants have arrived in Italy, up from 13,825 in the same period last year.
However, the overall number of migrants arriving in Europe, and particularly on Greek islands, has dropped substantially since the EU and Turkey agreed to prevent people making the crossing in return for financial and diplomatic incentives.
– Additional reporting Reuters