New 1-day peak for Italy mi­grant res­cues

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­GUS MACKIN­NON

Italy’s coast guard co­or­di­nated the res­cue of 4,400 mi­grants from boats in the Mediter­ranean in a sin­gle day on Satur­day, of­fi­cials said Sun­day as three new res­cue oper­a­tions were launched.

Satur­day’s to­tal was thought to be the high­est for a sin­gle day in re­cent years as calm con­di­tions en­cour­aged peo­ple smug­glers to leave Libya with boats stuffed with as many pay­ing pas­sen­gers on board as pos­si­ble.

The coast guard said it had re­ceived dis­tress calls from a to­tal of 22 ves­sels, ei­ther in­flat­able dinghies or wooden for­mer fish­ing boats — all of them dan­ger­ously over­crowded and many of them lack­ing ba­sic safety equip­ment.

Boats from the Ital­ian coast guard, navy and cus­toms po­lice all took part in the res­cue op­er­a­tion along­side Nor­way’s Siem Pi­lot and Ire­land’s Ni­amh, ships serv­ing with the EU’s Tri­ton search and res­cue mis­sion.

There were no re­ports of mi­grants hav­ing died dur­ing Satur­day’s oper­a­tions or prior to the res­cue boats ar­riv­ing.

With mil­i­tary res­cue as­sets at full stretch, the coast guard said it had been obliged to ask mer­chant ships to go to the res­cue of the boats which were in trou­ble on Sun­day.

The res­cued mi­grants will be de­posited at south­ern Ital­ian ports from later on Sun­day on­wards and the new ar­rivals will lift to more than 108,000 the num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers and other mi­grants to have ar­rived in Italy this year.

Italy’s coast guard on Satur­day suc­cess­fully co­or­di­nated the res­cue of around 3000 mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean af­ter re­ceiv­ing dis­tress calls from more than 20 over­crowded ves­sels drift­ing in wa­ters off Libya.

Ten­sions Rise

One of the big­gest sin­gle-day res­cue oper­a­tions to date ap­peared to have been con­cluded with­out any re­ports of ca­su­al­ties.

Two navy ships, the Ci­gala Ful­gosi and the Vega, picked up, re- spec­tively, 507 and 432 mi­grants from two wooden boats in dan­ger of sink­ing just off Libya, the navy said.

The coast guard said its pa­trol boats had boarded a to­tal of just un­der 1,000 peo­ple from var­i­ous un­sea­wor­thy fish­ing boats and in­flat­a­bles that had left Libya overnight Fri­day-Satur­day.

At least another 1,000 res­cued mi­grants and refugees were re­ported to be headed for Ital­ian ports on other boats as the wave of new ar­rivals trig­gered in­creas­ingly vir­u­lent at­tacks on cen­ter­left Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi’s han­dling of the mi­gra­tion cri­sis.

“This must a joke. We are us­ing our own forces to do the peo­ple smug­glers’ busi­ness for them and en­sure we are in­vaded,” said Mau­r­izio Gas­parri, a sen­a­tor for Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s cen­ter-right Forza Italia party.

Mat­teo Salvini called on the gov­ern­ment to park the mi­grants on dis­used Ital­ian oil rigs off Libya.

“Help them, res­cue them and take care of them: but don’t let them land here,” the pop­ulist leader of the anti-immigration North­ern League wrote on his Face­book page.

The res­cued mi­grants in­cluded a batch of 311, in­clud­ing a new­born baby, who were on a boat be­long­ing to hu­man­i­tar­ian group Doc­tors with­out Borders (MSF) which is ex­pected to dock on Mon­day in Vibo Valen­tia in Cal­abria, ac­cord­ing to port author­i­ties there.

A fur­ther 370 had been picked up by the Ital­ian cus­toms po­lice and were headed for Messina in Si­cily and the Nor­we­gian boat Siem Pi­lot was also car­ry­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple to port.

Locked be­low Deck

Just over 170,000 mi­grants and refugees from Africa, the Mid­dle East and South Asia landed at Italy’s south­ern ports in 2014 af­ter be­ing res­cued in the Mediter­ranean, while the to­tal for 2015 has al­ready topped 104,000.

A fur­ther 135,000-plus have landed in Greece since Jan­uary and more than 2,300 peo­ple have died at sea while try­ing to make it to Europe with the help of traf­fick­ers.

Po­lice in Palermo, Si­cily, an­nounced Satur­day that they had ar­rested six Egyp­tian na­tion­als on sus­pi­cion of peo­ple smug­gling fol­low­ing the res­cue of a stricken boat on Aug. 19.

Tes­ti­mony from the 432 mi­grants on board sug­gest the ves­sel had been packed with more than 10 times the num­ber of peo­ple it was de­signed for, with many of the pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing a num­ber of women and chil­dren, locked be­low decks.

They had each paid the traf­fick­ers 2,000 eu­ros (US$2,200) for the pas­sage from Egypt to Italy, ac­cord­ing to state­ments given to po­lice.

On board, the crew were re­ported to have de­manded fur­ther pay­ment to al­low those locked in the hold to come up tem­po­rar­ily for air.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions say the surge in the num­bers of peo­ple try­ing to reach Euro­pean Union coun­tries is the re­sult of con­flicts or re­pres­sion in Africa and the Mid­dle East.

They have called on Euro­pean gov­ern­ments to shoul­der more of the bur­den of ab­sorb­ing the wave of asy­lum seek­ers and to help cre­ate safer routes for them to reach Europe.

AFP

In this video grab re­leased by the Ital­ian Coast Guard (Guardia Costiera) on Sun­day, Aug. 23, mi­grants wait­ing on an over­crowded boat are helped dur­ing a res­cue op­er­a­tion off the coast of Libya as part of the Fron­tex-co­or­di­nated Op­er­a­tion Tri­ton.

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