Italian coast guard rescues 900 refugees

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The Italian coast guard says it has rescued around 900 refugees from stranded boats in naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy’s coastal service said on Wednesday that most of the refugees had been picked up overnight from two wooden boats traveling together off the Libyan coast and around 40 people had been rescued from another boat at dawn.

Among those pulled to safety were Eritreans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Somalis, and Syrians, traveling with their family and children from Libya.

Some 180,300 refugees and asylum seekers have arrived in Italy so far this year, nearly 14,000 more than the figure in 2015 and breaking a 170,000 record registered in 2014, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

Earlier in the day, the Libyan Red Cross said that 11 drowned bodies had been found on beaches near the capital, Tripoli, in the west of the North African country.

Thousands of people have died over the past months making perilous sea journeys from the Libyan coast to Europe in search of a better life.

The coasts of Libya have become a launch pad for asylum seekers seeking to reach Europe irregularly. A large number of them are Sub-Saharan Africans attempting to reach Italy.

In response to the widening crisis, the European Union launched Operation Sophia in 2015. The naval mission was meant to reduce the flow of people smuggled across the Mediterranean and to train the Libyan coast guard to fight smuggler boats. Yet, the operation is largely viewed as a failure.

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. The conflicts they are fleeing are usually instigated by the very European and non-European countries they seek to finally settle in.

More than 5,000 people have been killed this year trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The figure has already exceeded the toll in the entire 2015, which was more than 3,600.