More than 1,000 people have tried to leave Libya in boats during the past 24 hours. The UN migration agency says most were intercepted and returned to detention. As 116 more were rescued off Libya, a humanitarian group said that it was 'one of the busiest days' in the central Mediterranean.
"Today was one of the busiest days in a long time, maybe even in years," said Sea Watch International Head of Mission Neeske Beckmann on Thursday.
Moonbird, the migrant rescue organization's rescue plane, spotted eight boats in distress with several hundred people, while the crew on Friday was flying another mission to find five boats.
Overnight, the Mediterranean hotline for boats in distress, Alarm Phone, tweeted that 74 people who were fleeing Libya had reported that water was entering their boat.
Libyan coast guard intercepts at least 800 migrants
Meanwhile hundreds of people were intercepted in the Mediterranean sea off Libya's coasts and taken into detention over the last 24 hours, the UN migration agency IOM said on Friday.
The agency tweeted that more than 1,000 migrants have recently departed from Libya's shores, escaping "dire humanitarian conditions." Over 800 of them were stopped by the Libyan coast guard and sent to detention centers, the IOM said.
Photos posted by the IOM show mostly men waiting at disembarkation points in Libya and speaking to IOM staff.
"While IOM teams continue to provide assistance at disembarkation points, we maintain that Libya is not a safe port," the agency said.
On January 19, a boat carrying migrants bound for Europe capsized in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and at least 43 people drowned. It was the first report of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean in 2021. According to survivors, all those who died were men from West African countries.
116 rescued in second Ocean Viking operation
The Ocean Viking, a private rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, saved nearly 240 people from boats in distress in two separate operations on Thursday.
In the second operation in the afternoon, 116 people were rescued, according to the non-government organization that operates the ship, SOS Mediterranee. Many of the migrants came from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Sudan. Also among those rescued were nine children under the age of 13.
In an earlier rescue at daybreak, the Ocean Viking had picked up 121 people off the Libyan coast, SOS Mediterranee said. Among the rescued migrants were two small children. Several people who had fallen overboard were then brought onboard the Ocean Viking.
The Ocean Viking left the French port of Marseille for the central Mediterranean on January 11 after a month-long break.
At the end of January, it brought 370 migrants rescued at sea to the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily.
Libya remains one of the most important transit areas for migrants on their way to Europe. The journeys in small boats across the Mediterranean are highly dangerous. In 2020, there were 381 recorded deaths and 597 went missing on the Central Mediterranean route, according to UN figures.
According to IOM Libya's latest maritime update, in the week from January 26 to February 1, the bodies of eight migrants washed up on shore and no survivors returned to Libya.
Last year, 11,891 people were returned to Libya by the coast guard, according to IOM Libya. Libya's coast guard with funding from the European Union works to try to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. The IOM and rights groups say the policies put migrants in danger of abuse in Libyan detention centers.