Photo from Guardia Costiera/AFP
ROME, Italy (UPDATED) – Another 5,800 migrants desperate to reach Europe were rescued this weekend as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats, more than 2,150 of them on Sunday, May 3, the Italian coastguard said.
The number rescued this weekend was one of the highest recorded in recent years, raising fears that the tide of people risking their lives to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East has not been slowed by recent disasters.
On April 12 and 13 alone, more than 6,000 people were rescued.
Not all those trying to reach Europe made it, as the bodies of 8 migrants were found on board two of the vessels on Sunday, the coastguard said.
It was unclear how they died, but migrants face many dangers and extreme conditions on board overcrowded, flimsy vessels that set sail from Libya to Italy.
Two other people drowned after they jumped into the sea to rush towards the rescue teams, the coastguard said.
Sunday's rescues came as the Libyan coastguard intercepted five boats carrying 500 people and ordered them to return.
Another 50 migrants reached the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest to north Africa's shores, on Sunday.
The Italian navy said its patrol ship Bettica picked up more than 570 migrants from four vessels on Sunday, among them some 60 women and around 15 children.
The MV Phoenix, a ship operated by the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), also rescued 369 on Sunday, a day after setting sail from Malta for a six-month aid mission, MSF said.
Meanwhile the Libyan coastguard intercepted 5 boats with some 500 people on board, some 8 nautical miles off the coast, and ordered them to head back for the city of Misrata east of the capital Tripoli.
Colonel Reda Issa of the Libyan coastguard told Agence France-Presse that most of the migrants were Africans. He did not say what would happen to those intercepted, but Libya has a detention centre for migrants in Misrata.
Fleeing war, poverty
People smugglers have taken advantage of the chaos gripping Libya since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
On April 19, some 750 migrants were killed when their trawler sank between Libya and southern Italy, sparking global outrage and demands for action.
Four days later EU leaders tripled the bloc's budget for patrols off Libya.
EU leaders are now seeking UN Security Council approval for military action against smugglers in chaos-ridden Libya. But rights groups have blasted the Europe for focusing on patrols rather than humanitarian efforts.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has also urged the European Union to refrain from resorting to force.
Video released by the Italian coastguard on Sunday showed people crammed onto a small boat. The migrants are later seen clambering aboard a rescue vessel.
Saturday's operations in the Mediterranean involved four Italian coastguard vessels, two Italian navy ships and two customs boats, as well as four cargo ships and tugs.
French patrol boat Commandant Birot, which was sent last week to boost the EU's Operation Triton patrols dealing with the influx of migrant boats, also picked up 219 people off the coast of Libya Saturday.
Most of the migrants rescued Saturday, May 2, were being taken to Sicily or southern Italy, while some had already landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
However two suspected people traffickers were to be handed over to police at the port of Crotone in Calabria in southern Italy.
Several hundred migrants, mostly Africans but also including many fleeing the civil war in Syria, set out from Libya every day, hoping to make it to Europe to start a new life.
The number of migrants entering the EU illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the Mediterranean.
Some 1,750 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe this year, 30 times more than during the same period in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration. – Fanny Carrier, AFP / Rappler.com