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  • Migrants rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast.

    Migrants rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast. | Photo: AFP

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The number of asylum seekers arriving in Italy from North Africa has dropped 50 percent, compared to last year's figures.

A new report has linked the abrupt decline in refugees arriving in southern Europe to the presence of a new local militia in Libya.

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According to the report from Reuters, an armed group is stopping migrant boats from setting off across the Mediterranean from a city west of Tripoli.

An unnamed civil society organizer said the armed group, composed of several hundred “civilians, policemen, army figures,” operate on the ground and beach “to prevent the migrants leaving on boats towards Italy.” The source added that the campaign was started by a “former mafia boss.”

The number of asylum seekers arriving in Italy from North Africa has dropped 50 percent, compared to last year's figures.

While the months of July and August present favorable sea conditions to make the risky journey across the Mediterranean, the Reuters report indicates that August arrivals are even lower than last month.

Apart from halting boats filled with asylum seekers from departing, other unidentified sources claim that the militia often apprehends refugees turned back or seized from smugglers in designated detention centers.

Meanwhile, another source stated that the group appears to seek to legitimacy and financial support from Tripoli, where European states have tried to partner with a U.N.-backed Government of National Accord to reduce the number of refugees embarking from Libya en route to southern European countries.

Since 2014, some 600,000 asylum seekers have traversed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. Another 12,000 have perished during the journey.

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