- The Coast Guard has carried out many rescue operations in rough seas
- The number of immigrants arriving despite the government’s strictness increased
- The death toll from the shipwreck on February 26 rose to 74
ROME, March 11 (Reuters) – More than 1,300 migrants have been rescued in three separate operations off the southern tip of Italy, the coast guard said on Saturday, two weeks after at least 74 people died when their boat hit rocks near the coast.
And growing numbers of migrant arrivals have put pressure on Italy’s conservative government, which came to power last October promising to cut the flow only to see a sharp increase in landings this year from both North Africa and Turkey.
The coast guard said that one of its ships picked up 500 migrants from a boat more than 160 kilometers out at sea, and then brought them to the city of Reggio Calabria.
Another 379 migrants were transferred from a separate ship in the same area and will be brought to land soon.
“Rescue operations (were) complicated by overcrowded boats and unfavorable sea conditions,” the coast guard said in a statement.
View 2 more stories
Another fishing boat packed with 487 migrants was taken to the port of Crotone in Calabria and attached to a tug to help give it stability.
A further 200 people were arrested off the coast of Sicily and would be transferred to Catania later in the day, local officials said, while the air force was ferrying migrants from a crowded reception center on the island of Lampedusa.
More than 17,000 people have arrived in Italy so far this year, including about 4,000 this week, compared to 6,000 in the first two-and-a-half months of 2022. Hundreds have also died trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.
The body of a little girl was found Saturday near where a migrant boat crashed on Feb. 26, bringing the death toll from that one disaster to 74. 79 people survived the shipwreck, but about 30 are still missing, and presumed dead.
In all, the United Nations estimates that 300 migrants have died in the central Mediterranean so far this year.
Prosecutors are investigating whether the Italian authorities should have done more to prevent the disaster. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni rejected the proposal and aspired to shift the blame entirely to the traffickers.
On Thursday, her government imposed tougher prison sentences on people smugglers and promised to open more channels for legal migration. Late last year, it cracked down on charity rescue boats, accusing it of operating as a taxi service for migrants.
The charities denied this was the case. This measure sharply reduced the number of rescue ships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea, apparently without discouraging migrants from setting sail.
Enrico Borghi, a senator for the centre-left Democratic Party, accused the government of spoiling the crisis.
“(She) thinks she can solve such a deep problem through media posturing, criminal law, and fake efforts to appear tough,” he wrote on Twitter. The result: landings tripled with the Meloni government.
Meloni herself issued a statement on Saturday saying the only solution lies in a joint European effort to strengthen EU borders and strengthen cooperation with expulsions.
(Reporting by Crispian Palmer) Editing by Mark Potter and Frances Kerry
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”