Libya has nearly a quarter of a million migrants waiting to cross the Mediterranean

Figures for migrants crossing the Mediterranean are five per cent up on this time last year

Migrants on an overcrowded wooden boat await rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, about 25km north of Sabratha , Libya August 29, 2016. Emilio Morenatti, / AP
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ROME // Some 235,000 migrants in Libya are ready to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Italy as soon as the opportunity arises, UN envoy Martin Kobler said in an interview published Thursday.

According to Italy’s interior ministry, nearly 128,400 migrants have arrived via the Mediterranean since the start of the year — which is a five per cent jump over the same period in 2015.

“We have on our lists 235,000 migrants who are just waiting for a good opportunity to depart for Italy, and they will do it,” Mr Kobler told Italian daily La Stampa.

“Reinforcing security is the most important issue at the moment. If we have a strong and unified army ... then the dangers of terrorism and human trafficking will cease,” he added.

Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord based in Tripoli is struggling to assert its authority and has been facing stubborn resistance from a rival administration based in the country’s remote east.

Fighting for control of the nation’s oil assets has renewed fears of a civil war in Libya, which plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Libya’s 1,770 kilometres of coastline have become a popular staging point for migrants seeking to reach Europe.

Mr Kobler also said the offensive to capture key oil ports by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who supports the rival administration in the country’s east, was “very worrying.” Field Marshall Haftar’s seizure of four ports in Libya’s so-called oil crescent was a major blow to the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

“Libya is in need of dialogue, stability and unity. I have contacted general Haftar and I am ready to meet him to find a solution allowing for the creation of a single army,” he added.

Libya’s National Oil Company said on Thursday it would immediately resume oil exports from two key ports captured by Haftar this week. Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves, has only managed to export a few tankers of crude in recent months, with efforts to revive the industry thwarted by extremist attacks and political turmoil.Haftar’s seizure of the ports raises the prospect of resumption of oil exports from Libya, whose crude reserves are estimated at around 48 billion barrels.

* Agence France-Presse