Italy rescues nearly 6,000 migrants in a single weekend
New arrivals, spurred on by warm weather and calm seas, bring the total number of migrants to have entered Italy this year to more than 15,000
Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
Monday 13 April 2015 14.20 BST
Italy’s coastguard and navy have rescued nearly 6,000 migrants since Friday, as warm weather and improving sea conditions prompted an even higher number of boats than usual to set off from north Africa.
Rescue operations are still under way and at least nine migrants have died after their boat capsized about 80 miles off the coast of Libya, according to reports on Monday morning. About 144 people were saved in that operation.
Concerns have already been raised about the logic and morality of Europe’s decision to cut back maritime rescue operations in the Mediterranean last autumn. The EU is expected to announce a review of its policies in early May.
The new arrivals bring the total number of migrants who have entered Italy to more than 15,000 since the start of the year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which tracks the figures closely.
It was the second weekend in a row in which huge numbers of migrants were rescued crossing the Sicilian channel.
The majority of the operations this month have been performed by the Italian coastguard and navy and some commercial ships in international waters, rather than the European-backed Triton mission that patrols waters within 30 miles of the Italian coast.
Triton replaced a far more ambitious programme conducted by Italy, the Mare Nostrum mission, at the end of last year. Mare Nostrum was a one-year programme that cost Italy about €9m a month, compared with Triton’s budget of €2.9m, and carried out search and rescue missions over a 27,000 square-mile area.
Refugee advocate groups have pointed to this year’s migrant death toll of about 480, compared with 50 at the same time last year, as a sign of Triton’s inability to cope with the scale of the migration crisis.
Amnesty International has said that it hopes any review of Europe’s plan to handle the migration crisis would involve all of the EU taking a greater stake in the rescue operations, rather than just Italy.
Commercial vessels have provided significant support to the Italian coastguard, which sometimes calls on private ships to aid in rescue operations if they are closer to boats in distress. Last year, commercial ships rescued about 40,000 migrants.
“It is very delicate. It can be dangerous,” said Flavio Di Giacomo from IOM in Italy. “Usually they are in contact with Italian coastguard in Rome and they are followed step-by-step. Of course it is quite complicated because these commercial ships often have big open spaces [onboard] that are not designed to provide support to migrants.”
IOM staff who met some of the migrants who arrived in Italy over the weekend said they had been waiting to leave Libya for more than a month in “connection houses”, where it said smugglers subjected them to violence and abuse.
Survivors of the journey have been brought to the island of Lampedusa, Augusta, Messina, Porto Empedocle and Calabria.
Most of the migrants are from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, including Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.
The IOM reported that rescuers found a body on one boat that was recovered over the weekend. The victim is thought to have suffocated on the boat’s fumes, and an investigation is under way.
Migrants wait on board an Italian navy ship to disembark in the Sicilian port of Augusta.
April 13, 2015 2:27 pm
More migrants attempt Mediterranean crossing to Italy
Received on Mon Apr 13 2015 - 11:10:44 EDT