• Italy's news in English

Tiny Italian island swamped by migrant tide

AFP · 17 Feb 2015, 15:33

Published: 17 Feb 2015 15:33 GMT+01:00

The mainly African migrants were among some 3,800 would-be immigrants to Europe rescued in the Mediterranean since Friday, according to figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

At least 330 people are thought to have perished whilst trying to cross from Libya to Italy in the last week, 29 of whom died of exposure on Italian coastguard boats.

The tragedies, and the dramatically increased numbers, have sparked renewed debate over whether European search-and-rescue operations are adequate in the face of a humanitarian crisis triggered by a combination of conflict and hunger across much of Africa and the Middle East.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman reiterated the organisation's concern that the chaos currently engulfing Libya would ensure the flow of migrants risking their lives to reach Europe with the help of ruthless people smugglers would continue and possibly increase after what was a record year for arrivals in Italy in 2014 (more than 170,000 people landed).

"It seems to be growing," Millman told reporters at IOM headquarters in Geneva. "There are many, many speculations as to why. The profits .. are certainly one, but also things have gotten so out of control in Libya right now that even the smuggling gangs don't feel they can hold their inventory, to use such a word, indefinitely, so they have started vacating the space."

Millman highlighted a case where armed gunmen threated an Italian coast guard vessel to ensure they got their boat back after rescued migrants had been unloaded.

"This is a rather extreme activity that indicates that this has become as chaotic an industry as Libya seems to be in general."

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said smuggling had become more lucrative and less risky because of the situation in Libya.

"Smuggling networks are operating with much greater impunity," he said.

Some of the migrants rescued in the Mediterranean this week told the refugee agency they had paid between $500-$1,000 (€439-877) for their crossing in rubber dinghies.

Story continues below…

"We've seen about 100 people per dinghy, so do the math. You're talking about $50,000-$100,000 per boat."

Edwards said UNHCR had also received information that smuggling networks in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, including the Horn of Africa, were also ramping up their activity.

"This is a much wider problem than what we're seeing on the Mediterranean or just in Libya. It's quite wide. It's quite alarming."

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
Five migrants dead in shipwreck: Italian navy
500 people were pulled to safety and seven bodies recovered after a heavily crowded boat overturned off the Libyan coast. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

UPDATED: The navy said at least 550 people had been pulled to safety but added that the rescue operation was still underway and that the death toll could rise.

Italians petition to save paradise island's hermit
Some call it home: the island of Budelli, Sardinia. Photo: Luca Giudicatti

"Without him, the island's ecosystem would be severely compromised by now."

Italy finds 'body-filled' wreck of WWII submarine
Italian divers have located the wreck of a T-class Second World War submarine. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Experts say the bodies of 71 servicemen are still sealed inside the airtight submarine.

200-metre sinkhole swallows cars in central Florence
Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

The accident was probably caused by erosion from the River Arno.

Rome in €500m plea to restore historic icons to former glory
A man dressed as Julius Caesare takes part in an event to mark the anniversary of the legendary foundation of the Eternal City in 753 BC, on April 19th, 2015. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

"We need help to ensure Rome continues to be a reference point in terms of beauty for the whole world."

Italy says another 3,000 migrants rescued off Libya
Migrants rest aboard the rescue ship "Aquarius", on May 24th after a rescue operation in front of the Libyan coast. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

The overwhelming majority of those arriving in Italy so far this year have been from sub-Saharan Africa.

Did a Nazi official save Ponte Vecchio from destruction?
Florence's Ponte Vecchio. Photo: Colby Blaisdell/Flickr

Ponte Vecchio is one of the world’s most famous bridges. Rebuilt after a flood in 1345, it was the only bridge across the Arno that the escaping Germans did not destroy during the Second World War. Many put the bridge’s survival down to a Nazi official, as Stephen Caruso reports.

And Lonely Planet's 3rd 'must visit' Europe destination is...
This Italian town is a 'must see' this year. Photo: Gatnau/Flickr

Drumroll, please.

Plush Sardinian resort serves Harrods with eviction notice
Harrods has been told it cannot open in Sardinia this year. Photo: Rick Payette/Tony Sheng/Hl_1001/Flickr

“Everybody, including Harrods, needs to obey the same rules."

Italian football hooligan gets 26 years for rival fan's murder
Daniele De Santis has been found guilty of killing a Napoli fan ahead of the Italian Cup final in 2014. Photos: Rome police/AFP

Daniele De Santis, a Roma 'ultra' and right-wing militant, was on Tuesday found guilty of killing 31-year-old Ciro Esposito.

How the brutal murder of an anti-mafia hero altered Sicily
These are the best beaches within easy reach of Rome
Why Italians are falling out of love with the EU
Business & Money
Foreign, female and a self-made success in arduous Italy
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
How Italy's richest region is feeling the migrant strain
Rome mulls 'metro museum' after new line unearths ruin
Why Italy's facing a birth rate apocalypse
Why talk of barriers is opening up old wounds in South Tyrol
Huge Roman villa found under Amalfi church set to open
Two men kicked off plane in what captain calls 'racist act'
Meet the expats making a career out of Italian food
'Staying single is why I'm the world's oldest person'
Where can you find the best beaches in Italy?
The ultimate guide to the insanity of driving in Italy
Eight of Rome's most tantalizing foreign food gems
Migrant arrivals in Italy top 30,000 for 2016: navy
Italy’s deadliest earthquakes over the last 100 years
US passports now need six months validity for Italy
Six incredible ways Italy profoundly changed my life
Cheese, wine and family: the Italian way to live beyond 100
7 breathtaking alternatives to Italy's tourist hotspots
Long-term Brit in Italy barred from EU vote vows to fight on
jobs available