Libyan coast guards were on Wednesday reported to have detained 580 migrants about to board a boat to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
The migrants, all said to be from sub-Saharan Africa, were caught west of Tripoli early this morning on the beach between Zawia and Sabratha, according to Al-Nabaa TV. The boat they were about to use was also seized.
Asked by reporters later this morning whether the smugglers involved had also been arrested, a spokesman for the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, Mohamed Abdussalam, said no, but explained that this was because the smugglers were using a new tactic. Instead of them sailing the boats themselves, he said, they were training one or two of the illegal migrants to do so, thus eliminating the risk of being caught.
With migrants paying around $1,000-a-head for the journey to Europe, smugglers try to get as many on a boat a possible, sometimes with catastrophic results.
At present, with the daily rate for casual labour at LD 80, migrants can earn enough in three months in Tripoli to pay the smugglers to take them to Europe.
There is now a wave of migrants in the country hoping to cross the Mediterranean. Cynics in a number of European countries, especially in NGOs, have poured scorn on suggestions that as many as a million are waiting to Libya to catch a boat across the Mediterranean, but in Tripoli the already large number of sub-Saharans on the streets trying to hire themselves out for day work has soared in recent weeks.
The number of migrants rescued at sea has likewise soared. From last Friday to Sunday, 6,700 migrants were rescued at sea. Ten bodies were also found. A further 500 were reported rescued on Monday by the Libyan coast guard. Despite the figures, those being rescued are believed to be minuscule in number compared to those who make it safely to Italy.