9000 migrants rescued in Mediterranean over weekend

Child among seven migrant bodies found off Libya

Libya is the main gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.

Over Easter weekend, rescue ships plucked some 8,360 people from 55 different rubber dinghies and wooden boats off Libya's coast. Thirteen dead bodies, including a pregnant woman and small child, were also recovered by NGOs and the Italian coast guard.

The controversial EU-Turkey deal slowed comparatively shorter and safer boat crossings over the Aegean Sea to a trickle past year, but the number of migrants on the treacherous passage from Libya to Italy has continued to increase.

Doctors Without Borders points out that, according to maritime law, if rescue missions aren't happening where they're most needed, the job would fall on other ships in the area.

The latest disaster came as the Austrian government called for the Central Mediterranean passage to be shut down, like the crossing from Turkey to Greece and Balkans route. Migrants have flooded into Libya from across Africa, producing a bonanza for smugglers.

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"It is obvious that better spring weather has encouraged smugglers to take people from their detention centers", IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told a news briefing in Geneva. Molinario noted that the numbers are constantly in flux and a week or two of poor weather could alter the year-on comparison.

As of 2017 around 900 people died and 97 people went missing. The overwhelming majority of the rescues occurred off Libya's coastline, as migrants are sent to sea in overcrowded dinghies, easily overwhelmed by waves.

Catrambone said the only question at sea is life or death.

The aid groups have denied being in cahoots with smugglers, but Catania's chief prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, testified to parliament last month about the phenomenon, in particular the funding behind the aid groups' operations. An estimated 27,000 have tried to reach Italy from Libya.

More than 40,000 asylum seekers have been taken to shore by rescue ships in Italy so far this year, while others arrive in Spain, Greek islands and Cyprus. On the Libyan end, an European Union military task force reported in December that Libyan coastal communities earned around 270-325 million euros a year from smuggling operations.

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