In just two days, more than 5,600 people have been rescued from various boats and dinghies in the southern Mediterranean. On 24 May, some 3,000 refugees were saved off the Libyan coast, in what an Italian coastguard said involved 23 rescue missions. The Libyan coastguard saved a further 1,400, many of whom were returned to the city of Zawiyah in the north-west of the country.

One vessel, the Aquarius – a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarians SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) – was involved in the rescue. The boat patrols Mediterranean waters to rescue those trying to reach Europe aboard rubber dinghies or old fishing boats, which are usually over-capacity and unsafe.

Refugees Libyan coast
A woman holds her child during an Aquarius rescue operation in the Mediterranean in front of the Libyan coastGabriel Bouys/ AFP

The European Union deal with Turkey has affected the flow of people who have been able to reach Greece. Asylum seekers have had to take an alternative sea route between Libya and Italy, which is far longer and over rougher waters. The number of people taking this route will likely increase as weather conditions continue to improve.

refugees migrants rescued Aquarius
Men react after being rescued from the Mediterranean by the Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders)Gabriel Bouys/AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A man sprinkles water onto his face after being rescued during an operation at sea with the AquariusGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
People rest aboard the Aquarius rescue ship Gabriel Bouys/ AFP

Refugees Libyan coast
A man puts on dry clothes after a rescue operation Gabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libya
People are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships Bettica and Bergamini off the coast of LibyaReuters
Refugees Libya
People are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships Bettica and Bergamini off the coast of LibyaReuters
Refugees Libya
People are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships Bettica and Bergamini off the coast of LibyaReuters
Refugees Libyan coast
The Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarians SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), off the Libyan coastGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A man looks on after being rescued during a rescue operation with the AquariusGabriel Bouys/ AFP

According to Italian sources, some 31,000 people, mainly from Africa have managed to reach Italy by boat, slightly down on 2015. Most of those trying to reach Italy leave Libya on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies, heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, close to Tunisia, or towards Sicily.

Refugees Libyan coast
People wrapped in blankets rest aboard the Aquarius Gabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
People prepare to sleep aboard the rescue ship AquariusGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A father holds his three daughters aboard the Aquarius after the rescue operationGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
People arrive by boat at the Zawiyah port, a Libyan naval base some 45km west of the capital Tripoli, after they were rescued off the coast of the western city of SabrathaMahmud Turkia/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A woman is helped off the boat by rescuers with the AquariusGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
People arrive by boat at the Zawiyah portMahmud Turkia/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A father holds his three daughters aboard the Aquarius after a rescue operation in front of the Libyan coastGabriel Bouys/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
People sit in a shelter following their arrival by boat at the Zawiyah portMahmud Turkia/ AFP
Refugees Libyan coast
A group of men pose after a rescue operation at sea Gabriel Bouys/ AFP