There has been a remarkable drop in the number of migrants crossing from Libya to Europe, via Italy.
According to Reuters, an armed Libyan group has been stopping migrant boats from setting off across the Mediterranean from a city west of Tripoli that has been a springboard for people smugglers.
The policing of the route by the group has made arrivals in Italy drop by more than 50 percent in July from a year earlier, and August arrivals so far are down even further. July and August are peak months for migrant boats because of favourable sea conditions.
Sources in Sabratha, 70 km (45 miles) west of the capital, said the sudden drop had been caused by a new force in the seaside city, which is preventing migrants from leaving, often by locking them up.
The group in Sabratha “works on the ground, the beach, to prevent the migrants leaving on boats towards Italy,” said a civil society organizer from the city, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The group is made up of several hundred “civilians, policemen, army figures,” he said. It is conducting a “very strong campaign” that was launched by a “former mafia boss”, said a second Sabratha source who follows smuggling activity closely.
A third source with contacts in Libya, who also asked not to be named, said the Sabratha group was making “a significant effort to police the area”