ROME (Reuters) - Rescuers saved 484 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday and found the bodies of seven men who had died in the attempt to get to Europe, Italy’s coast guard said.
More than 45,000 people have reached Italy by boat from North Africa this year, a more than 40 percent increase on the same period of 2016, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says.
The new deaths add to a toll of 1,222 on the route as of May 10, compared with 966 by the same date last year, according to IOM calculations.
The migrants were rescued from four separate rubber boats by the Italian coast guard and navy, an aid group and two private vessels, the coast guard said in a statement.
The coast guard gave no details of the migrants’ origins, but most arriving in Italy are originally from Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh, and pay Libya-based smugglers to organise their passage.
A senior official in a United Nations-backed Libyan government in Tripoli said on Sunday his administration was ready to create a new guard to patrol the country’s chaotic southern border, but it would only be possible to secure the frontier if other countries helped.
“If we don’t resolve Southern Libya’s problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue,” Abdulsalam Kajman, vice president in the U.N.-backed government headed by Fayez Seraj, told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“The difficult economic situation in that region pushes lots of young people to work for the traffickers,” Kajman said, adding Italy had said it was willing to train the new guard.
Libya primarily needs administrative and logistical help, he added, saying Turkey had donated 20 tonnes of medicine but now that needed to be taken to southern Libya and distributed.
“(Italian Interior Minister Marco) Minniti has told us Italy is ready to dispatch mobile hospitals, but we need other countries and the European Union to lend a hand too,” he said.
Reporting by Isla Binnie. Editing by Jane Merriman