A migrant carries her baby on her shoulders aboard a navy
ship before being disembarked in the Sicilian harbour of
Augusta. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello
Italy has rescued about 5,200 men, women and children and
recovered three dead bodies from overcrowded boats in the
Mediterranean Sea since Thursday.
Calm seas have led to this latest wave of migrants who have
left North African shores for Italy over just three days, a
navy spokesman told Reuters, with merchant ships and a
Maltese vessel also aiding in the rescue efforts.
The merchant tanker Norient Star recovered three bodies from
one of the migrant boats, the spokesman said, adding that he
had no details about the cause of the death or identity of
Three merchant ships, including the Norient Star, took aboard
a total of 700 migrants, a navy statement said, and is taking
them to ports in Sicily.
The surge in arrivals is straining the ability of the Italian
naval mission - called Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea" - to patrol
the waters between Africa and Italy on its own. It has
prompted local officials in Sicily, where most of the
migrants are taken, to call for more European support.
"Europe can't just turn its back on us," Lillo Firetto, mayor
of the Sicilian port city of Porto Empedocle, said in a
television interview on Sunday. "This isn't just Sicily's
border, but it's Europe's border, too."
Italy has repeatedly asked for more European Union countries
to join Mare Nostrum, which is Europe's biggest ever
search-and-rescue mission, but so far only Slovenia has
chipped in, offering one ship for two months late last year.
Mare Nostrum began last October after 366 migrants fleeing
African countries drowned when their boat capsized a mile
from Sicily. After the tragedy, the EU pledged 30 million
euros ($40.85 million )in emergency funding, mainly targeted
to fund immigration facilities on land.
The number of boat migrants who have reached Italy this year
has already topped the total of more than 40,000 for the
whole of 2013. The pace of arrivals is on track to exceed the
record of 62,000 set in 2011 during the Arab Spring
Two-thirds of the migrants, who come from dozens of countries
and include Syrians fleeing civil war and Eritreans evading
military conscription, leave Italy for other EU countries,
the Interior Ministry said.
"The ones who arrived yesterday left immediately. We saw them
walking down state-road 115," Firetto said in the televisions
Given the thousands who have arrived in just the past few
days, Firetto said he was very worried that the situation
would get worse in coming weeks.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has urged the United Nations to
intervene in Libya, where criminal gangs charge migrants more
than $1,000 each for a spot on unsafe vessels, to try to
limit the departures.
The recent flood of boat migrants has helped revive Italy's
anti-immigrant Northern League party, which had lost much of
its support over the last two years due to corruption
scandals and leadership changes.