TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyan naval forces rescued 450 migrants off its coastline early Monday who were aboard a vessel making an illegal journey to Europe on Monday, a naval official said.
Mahmoud al-Akhsham says the migrants were rescued in Libyan waters near Zwara, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) west of Tripoli. He said most of the migrants are from Eritrea and Syria, and some are Palestinians. He added that women and children were among the Syrians.
Al-Akhsham's remarks came the same day Italy announced it rescued hundreds of migrants sailing from Libya aboard two vessels. Last week alone, over 4,000 migrants reached Italy's shores. Many of the boats set out from Libya's loosely patrolled coast packed with migrants fleeing wars or hardship.
Libya has become a prime springboard for tens of thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe in rickety, crowded boats.
Last year, hundreds died after their boats capsized near Italian shores.
On Saturday, Libya's interior minister threatened that his country would help migrants reach Europe if the European Union does not do more to help his country deal with a flood of migrants using Libya as a transit point.
Saleh Maziq said EU assistance would enable his North African nation stop illegal migrants arriving in Libya from sub-Saharan African nations en route to Europe.
Addressing a news conference, the minister blamed the presence of illegal migrants in his country for a rise in crime, the spread of illegal drugs and diseases. He did not elaborate. He also appealed to Libya's southern neighbors to help it stop the flood of migrants.
Chaos has prevailed in Libya since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. With the police and the military in disarray, human smuggling has become an organized industry in which Libya's militias have gotten involved, activists and police say.