Italy + 2 more

Some 1,600 migrants rescued from Mediterranean in two days

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More migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean have been taken aboard rescue ships, aid organizations said. The rescues come as EU leaders adopt controversial measures in cooperation with Libya.

Aid organizations on Saturday rescued 300 people from waters in the Strait of Sicily after some 1,300 refugees and migrants were saved off the Libyan coast the day before, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

The Italian coast guard confirmed the number of those rescued on Saturday, saying they had been on board two rubber dinghies and a punt.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which was involved in several of the 13 separate operations on Friday, wrote on Twitter of an "absolute nightmare."

Dangerous route

Another 1,300 people were rescued on Wednesday.

The sea crossing from Libya across the Mediterranean to Italy is currently the main route to Europe for migrants.

More than 5,000 are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing in 2016, with many consigned to flimsy and often overfilled boats run by people smugglers.

A record 181,000 people made the journey last year.

Controversial cooperation

The latest rescues come a day after European Union leaders meeting in Malta adopted a number of plans in cooperation with Libya aimed at cutting the number of migrants attempting the sometimes perilous sea crossing from Africa to Europe.

Among other things, they agreed to give financial aid to the Libyan coast guard to help it intercept boats shortly after they set off. They also intend to set up "safe" refugee camps in Libya.

Libyan coast guards this week intercepted more than 1,100 refugees crossing the Mediterranean. Seven boats were stopped over the course of a week near the city of Sabratha, 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the west of Tripoli, a spokesperson said on Saturday. Those intercepted were namely people from sub-Saharan, North African and Middle Eastern countries, and included a large number of women and children, authorities said.

The proposed measures have met with criticism from rights groups, who say cooperation with Libya is dangerous for migrants owing to the country's fragile security situation and record of violent conflict.

MSF was among those to slam the plans forged at the Malta summit.

Since longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, Libya has remained divided between militias. It currently has a UN-backed Tripoli-based government that controls only sections of the country's vast coastline.

tj/sms (Reuters, dpa)