Thousands of migrants rescued near Libyan coast
May 3, Rome: Nearly 3,700 migrants were rescued from boats near the coast of Libya on Saturday and early Sunday and more rescue operations were expected during the day as people smugglers took advantage of calm seas, Italy’s coast guard said
All of those pulled from boats were being taken to Italy, a spokesman for the coast guard said, and some reached Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, during the night.
Italian authorities said the migrants were rescued by Italian and French navy vessels in 17 separate operations.
At least 1,750 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The number is a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014, when 96 people died. Many more migrants are expected to make the crossing as smugglers take advantage of calmer weather.
At an emergency meeting last month to discuss the crisis, European Union leaders said they would triple the funding for rescue operations run by EU border agency Frontex, and threatened to target smugglers’ boats with military strikes.
Italy abandoned its Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission last year after some EU members – including the UK – said they could not afford to fund it.
The decision was widely criticised in April after more than 800 people died when a single boat sank – the deadliest capsize recorded in the Mediterranean.
Some of the 27 survivors of the accident described being beaten by smugglers in an attempt to load more migrants on to the boat
The overloaded vessel crashed into a cargo ship shortly after leaving Libya, causing panic on board. The dead were mostly Syrians, Eritreans, and Somalis – adults and children.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said “much more” needs to be done beyond the EU’s current spending plans to tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.
The Oslo Times and Agencies