Video: Italy Rescues Nearly 6,000 Migrants in a Single Weekend | Pregnant Migrant Airlifted to Malta



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 | April 13, 2015


Migrants wait on board an Italian navy ship to disembark in the Sicilian port of Augusta. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

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.

Separately on Monday, Tunisia’s coastguard and navy rescued 178 migrants from two boats that broke down as they headed from Libya to Italy. The Red Crescent said the migrants – 94 on one boat and 84 on the other – sent out a distress call from off the coast of south-east Tunisia as they headed for Lampedusa.



Pregnant migrant airlifted to Malta as Italy continues massive rescue off Libya | April 13, 2015


A pregnant Somali woman has been brought to Malta after having been airlifted from a merchant ship carrying hundreds of rescued migrants off Libya.

Italian authorities requested assistance from Malta after the woman started complaining of stomach pains and was vomiting.

The woman was brought to Malta on an Italian Military Mission helicopter which landed on the helicopter pad of St Luke's Hospital, where an ambulance was waiting – the helipad at Mater Die hospital is currently non-operational because of nearby building works, . 

The airlift was part of as many as 13 rescue missions taking place simultaneously by Italian and Maltese military vessels as well as several merchant ships that have been diverted to migrants in distress off the Libyan coast.

The situation reached crisis point at the weekend with 5,629 migrants having been rescued in three days between Friday and Sunday. Some 1,000 other migrants remain at sea.

Authorities are overwhelmed and unable to say exactly how many people are out there at the moment but there are expected to be more than 1,000 people.

Libyan sources said that many migrant boats today left from the coastal towns of Sabratha and Zawiya. The smuggling network controlling these areas has been preparing for weeks, waiting for a window of clear weather to send thousands of migrants.

And the weather has been very good for them.

The Italian military said this morning that nine people had died after a boat carrying some 150 migrants capsized some 80 miles off the Libyan coast. The rest of the people on board were rescued.

Yesterday the coast guard intercepted 26 migrant boats.

The Rome rescue centre, which is coordinating the ongoing Frontex border patrol mission, scrambled five Italian military and coastguard vessels. A Maltese patrol boat along with several merchant ships also sailing through the area.

“It’s an absolute crisis,” a military source told Times of Malta, pointing out that the number of rescues was unprecedented for this year. There had been similar incidents last year but this year “We’ve seen nothing like this and I don’t think we’ve ever had a day like today at this time of year,” the source said.

Smugglers operating from a zone west of Tripoli have exploited a window of very good weather in the past couple of days, sending dozens of boats, mostly from the coastal towns of Sabratha, Zawiya and Zuwara.

Sources in Libya said the smugglers were likely towing empty dinghies to sea and then transferring the migrants to them from larger vessels. “The dinghies they are using are absolutely worthless, they’re unable to keep afloat even after a few dozen miles, which means that if they had to start the journey from the Libyan coast, they would sink within the country’s territorial waters.

“So they are probably using this system to make sure they cross the sea border,” the source said.

Times of Malta late last week managed to make contact with a boat carrying 522 migrants from this group on Friday. An Eritrean man who answered the call on a satellite phone on board said the situation on the dinghy was dire and pointed out that there were many women, one of them pregnant, and at least two children on board.

Italy Rescues Nearly 6,000 Migrants in a Single Weekend, Pregnant Migrant Airlifted to Malta