More than 600 migrants have been rescued at sea over the last few days and taken to Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Most arrivals have risked their lives
More than 600 migrants have been rescued at sea over the last few days and taken to Porto Empedocle in Sicily.
Most arrivals have risked their lives to flee Libya which has been rocked increasingly by civil war for much of the last year.
Rescuers carried women and young children off a vessel while hundreds of others waited on board the ship to step onto day land.
Hundreds have died during the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
Many Western countries have closed their embassies and evacuated their diplomats from Libya because of the rising danger.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Libyans too want to leave.
Their country’s plunge into anarchy has created an ideal environment for traffickers, who pack people fleeing war and poverty onto rickety boats that set sail for Europe — mainly aiming for nearby Italy.
In an interview at the Warsaw headquarters of EU border cooperation agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri said the numbers since January 1 of what his agency terms “irregular crossings” into Europe at all border points was the highest ever recorded.
An official put the number at more than 5,600, despite winter storms and cold that normally deter the human smugglers.
Asked if that meant 2015 would be a record year, Leggeri said: “Yes, if the current trend is confirmed.”
In 2014, there were approximately 300,000 irregular crossings into the European Union, with UN data showing at least 218,000 people entering via the Mediterranean. The other major route for migrants was overland from the Middle East into the western Balkans and onto the EU, officials said.
“There are obvious reasons: because of the geopolitical situation in Syria and the Middle East, because in Libya one can say there is a failed state and there is no government able to have effective control of the territory, which makes it easier for organised crime to flourish there.”
Leggeri said traffickers were becoming more aggressive.
In one case this month, smugglers pulled out guns to threaten an Italian coastguard crew which was trying to tow a wooden vessel filled with migrants into port. The traffickers, he said, wanted the boat back so they could use it again.
Frontex is in charge of an EU coastguard mission patrolling the Mediterranean, dubbed Operation Triton, which started work last November just as Italy wound down a much larger programme, Mare Nostrum, that rescued more than 100,000 migrants in 2014.
The Mediterranean crossing claimed an estimated 3,300 lives last year, and earlier this month more than 300 people are believed to have died after leaving Libya in inflatable rafts.
The United Nation’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, says Operation Triton is woefully inadequate, and urged Europe to take a new approach.
Leggeri said Operation Triton, which had been planned to run only until the end of January, would now carry on throughout the year, adding that it had already helped save up to 9,000 people.
The International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday that some 3,800 migrants had been rescued from the Mediterranean since last Friday alone.