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The mass rescue in the Mediterranean comes amid the latest surge in migrants who are desperately attempting to flee poverty, political repression and war in their home countries.
Nearly 4,000 people died while making the perilous trip across the Mediterranean in 2015 alone, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Monday’s dramatic operation took place just 21 kilometres north of the town of Sabratha in Libya.
Non-governmental groups such as Doctors Without Borders and the Barcelona-based Proactiva Open Arms helped take on some 3,000 people who had been travelling in some 20 small wooden boats.
Migrants from Eritrea and Somalia cheered as the rescue boats arrived, with some jumping into the water and swimming toward them while others carefully carried babies onto the rescue ships.
The organisations’ Twitter accounts showed as many as 700 travelling on a single, worn sea vessel before being rescued.
Tens of thousands of Africans take the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route as a gateway to a better life in Europe, alongside those fleeing wars from Syria to Afghanistan.
Libya’s chaos and lack of border controls have made it into a transit route. Since the 2011 ouster and killing of long-time Libyan strongmen Muammar Gaddafi, the country has sunk into lawlessness and seen the rise of the Islamic State group.
In June, the European Union expanded its anti-smuggling operation in the central Mediterranean to include training Libyan coastal and naval forces, which are intercepting boats and returning migrants to Libya, where some are being held in abusive conditions.
Rights groups and experts estimate that there are about 3,500 migrants held in roughly 20 official detention facilities across Libya. Others are held in informal detention centres controlled by criminal gangs or armed groups.