As European leaders wrestle with the human exodus of African migrants in the Mediterranean and the traffickers putting their lives in danger, yet another crowded boatload has arrived in Italy.
The group of 545 human beings was brought to Salerno by the Italian Navy. They numbered 365 men, 174 women – some of them pregnant – and one minor. They had crossed Africa from countries like Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
Earlier, a further 446 rescued migrants docked in Augusta, Sicily, on Wednesday morning, Italian officials said.
There were also reports that 115 people had been rescued from a small, inflatable boat some 70 kilometres off the coast of Libya.
In Malta the authorities are preparing to hold funerals for two dozen migrants who drowned and whose bodies were recovered from the sea.
They were among as many as 900 feared killed in the deadliest known shipwreck so far of Africans trying to reach Europe, when their vessel overturned and sank on Sunday.
“We proceeded out at sea with the hope of course to save as much people as we could but unfortunately we didn’t arrive quite in time to save the migrants. We were really disappointed and you could feel this through the entire crew. However, as I said, only corpses were to be found,” said Lieutenant Mark Mercieca of the Maltese Navy.
That tragedy prompted a graphic protest on Brighton beach in England on Wednesday.
Rows of black body bags formed part of a symbolic illustration of the growing migrant cemetery at sea.
Organisers Amnesty International said they wanted to draw attention to a “humanitarian emergency”.
This year alone, 22,000 migrants have arrived in Italy. Some 1,600 have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Italy is pushing for more action. European leaders are to discuss how to tackle the crisis in an extraordinary summit on Thursday.
Funding and resources have been cut drastically since November, when the Europe-led Triton sea patrol operation began. It receives a third of the monthly funds Italy put into its year-long Mare Nostrum rescue operation.