July 24, 2017 / 2:34 PM / 2 years ago

Libya coastguard rescues nearly 300 migrants off the coast: official

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya’s coastguard rescued an estimated 278 migrants including women and children on Monday off the shores of two different towns west of the capital Tripoli, a spokesman said.

The coastal towns to the west of Tripoli - Zawiya, Sabratha, and Zuwarah - are common departure points for migrants trying to reach Europe, often sent out by smugglers in flimsy vessels.

The coastguard near Zawiya refinery rescued 128 people about 23 km (14 miles) off the coast and another 150 were rescued off Sabratha, the spokesman of Libyan naval forces Ayoub Qaseed told Reuters.

The migrants were mostly from sub-Saharan African countries, though there was also one from Bangladesh and two from Egypt.

Thousands of migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea use the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy. The vast majority of migrants set off from the coastal towns of western Libya.

Italy and the European Union are trying to work with Libyan authorities to fight smugglers, but the current chaos in Libya has allowed armed groups and criminal gangs to flourish and is hampering efforts to combat trafficking.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; editing by Patrick Markey and Gareth Jones

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