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MIGRANT CRISIS

Over 1,000 migrants rescued off Italian coastline arrive in Sicily

More than a thousand migrants arrived in Italy within a few hours while hundreds of others, rescued by humanitarian vessels, were waiting for a port to receive them, NGOs and authorities said.

The crew of the Ocean Viking rescue ship said they saved 87 migrants from a dinghy in distress over the weekend.
The Ocean Viking rescue ship off the coast of Sicily. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP.

More than 600 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean on board a drifting fishing boat were rescued on Saturday by a merchant vessel and coastguards off Calabria, at the southern tip of Italy. They were landed in several ports in Sicily.

The authorities also recovered five bodies of migrants who had died in as yet undetermined circumstances.

On the island of Lampedusa, some 522 people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, arrived from the late hours of Saturday in 15 different boats from Tunisia and Libya.

According to Italian media, the island’s reception centre has been overwhelmed.

With a capacity of 250-300 people, it currently hosts 1,200, according to the Ansa news agency.

Offshore NGOs continued to recover hundreds of migrants in distress in the Mediterranean.

SeaWatch reported that it had carried out four rescue operations on Saturday.

“On board SeaWatch3, we have 428 people, including women and children, a woman nine months pregnant and a patient with severe burns,” it said on its Twitter account.

Ocean Viking, operated by non-governmental organisation SOS Mediterranean, reported that it had recovered 87 people, including 57 unaccompanied minors, who were crammed onto “an overcrowded inflatable boat in distress in international waters off Libya”.

Between January 1 and July 22, 34,000 people arrived in Italy by sea compared with 25,500 during the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020, Italy’s interior ministry said.

The Central Mediterranean migration route is the most dangerous in the world. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 990 people have died and disappeared since the beginning of the year.

After Italy signed an EU-sponsored accord with the Libyan government in February 2017 to keep migrants from making the crossing, the number of people arriving in the country by sea fell dramatically: from 119, 369 in 2017 to 23,370 in 2018, according to UNHRC data.

But human rights groups say the agreement was a Faustian one. The chance of dying in a Mediterranean sea crossing rose from one in 42 to one in 18 between 2017 and 2018, according to Human Rights Watch.

The widespread torture of migrants, including children, in Libyan detention centres, has been widely documented by independent researchers, as has a thriving modern day slave trade.

In 2018, seventeen survivors of a mass drowning incident filed an application against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights after an alleged attempt by the Libyan coastguard to interfere in a rescue mission by pulling migrants back to Libya resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people.

Italy’s Memorandum of Understanding with Libya was renewed for an additional three years in 2019. The accord is due to expire in February 2023, but will be automatically renewed for another three years unless cancelled by authorities.

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MIGRANT CRISIS

Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat off Sicily

Italy's coastguard has recovered the bodies of eight people who died of cold and hunger in the Mediterranean, officials said on Friday, as a spat rages over Rome's crackdown on rescue boats in the world's deadliest crossing.

Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat off Sicily

Rescuers found the bodies of five men and three women – one of whom was pregnant – in a boat late on Thursday, Filippo Mannino, the mayor of the islandof Lampedusa, told AFP.

The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he said.

The rescued migrants were soaked through and those who perished were believed to have died of cold and hunger, according to Italian media reports, citing translators who spoke to the survivors.

The bodies of two people were still missing, Italy’s Ansa news agency said.

Survivors said a four-month-old baby on board had died, and his mother in her grief had put the body in the sea. A man then jumped in to recover it, but drowned, they said, according to Ansa.

The baby’s mother was believed to be one of the three women who died.

READ ALSO: ‘More will drown’: Italy accused of breaking international law on migrant rescues

The migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday.

The deaths came as Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner urged Italy’s government to scrap or rewrite a new anti-immigration decree that takes aim at charity rescue vessels operating in the central Mediterranean.

The new decree adopted by the Italian government is considered a breach of international law, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a letter to Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Thursday.

“I am concerned that the application of some of these rules could hinder the provision of life-saving assistance by NGOs in the Central Mediterranean and, therefore, may be at variance with Italy’s obligations under human rights and international law,” Mijatovic wrote.

Nearly 5,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, according to the interior ministry, up from just over 3,000 in the same period last year and 1,000 in 2021.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government has accused charity ships of encouraging people traffickers.

Charity vessels only rescue around 10 percent of migrants brought to safety in Italy, while most are saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.

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