Seven bodies were recovered and 484 people were rescued from boats in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to cross into Europe, Italy’s coastguard said.
The Italian coastguards, navy, an aid group and two private vessels rescued the refugees and migrants, who were travelling on four rubber boats, on Saturday, the coastguard said in a statement.
No details were given of the origins of asylum seekers. But most arriving in Italy are from Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh, and pay Libya-based smugglers to organise their passage.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 45,000 people have reached Italy by boat from North Africa this year – almost a 40 percent increase from 2016.
The new deaths add to a toll of 1,222 on the route as of May 10, compared with 966 by the same date last year, according to the IOM.
The pace of migrant crossings is expected to increase as the weather improves. The sea channel between Italy and Libya is the world’s busiest and most dangerous sea migration route.
Human traffickers appear to be running rampant and smugglers often extort money and hold people for ransom.
In addition, organisations assisting asylum seekers say that the smugglers’ methods have become increasingly brutal with people reporting cases of rape, beatings and forced labour.
A senior official in the UN-backed Libyan government in Tripoli said that his administration was ready to create a new guard to patrol the country’s chaotic southern border, but it would only be possible to secure the frontier if other countries helped.
“If we don’t resolve southern Libya’s problems, we will not resolve the migrant issue. The difficult economic situation in that region pushes a lot of young people to work for the traffickers,” said Abdulsalam Kajman, Vice President of the Libyan government headed by Fayez Saraj.
“Libya primarily needs administrative and logistical help. Macro Minniti [Italian Interior Minister] has told us that Italy is ready to dispatch mobile hospitals, but we need other countries and the EU to lend a hand too.”