Almost 3000 migrants rescued off Libya coast, says NGO

Migrants aboard the Golfo Azurro rescue vessel wait to be transferred to Italian authorities in Trapani harbor on the Italian island of Sicily Saturday

Almost 3000 migrants rescued off Libya coast, says NGO

"Many more people could have died in a day like this if we arrived a few hours later".

UN Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) spokeswoman Carlotta Sami told Efe news that 8,300 people were rescued in 60 rescue operations were conducted throughout the weekend by 35 ships, including some merchant vessels that offered support.

Those who had disappeared were "probably dead", but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added.

The rest of the asylum seekers were picked up by the coast guard, the Phoenix - run by the Maltese Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) - the German NGO Sea Eye and the German Jugend's Iuventa.

So far this year, about 29,000 migrants, a lot of them fleeing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived in Italy after being rescued by European military ships or private charity organizations.

Thousands of illegal migrants have been rescued from the sea near Libya during one of the busiest weekends of the year for rescue workers, according to reports of different agencies.

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The migrants and refugees were rescued by Italian Coast Guard boats, passing merchant ships and more than a dozen NGO charity ships that have filled the vacuum created when Italy's Mare Nostrum search and rescue program ended in 2014 because of budget concerns.

Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Police say all 16 crossed into Greece from Turkey about two weeks ago and that the people holding them demanded 2,500 euros ($2,654) from each to release them. Eight migrants died, including a pregnant woman.

Friday's rescues come a day after a shipwreck left at least 97 migrants feared drowned off Libya.

The first vessel, carrying 41 men and 11 women of sub-Saharan origin, was located by rescue teams shortly after midnight in the Alboran Sea east of the Strait of Gibraltar. "We don't have a lot of choices".

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