Saturday

25th May 2019

Thousands of migrants rescued in Mediterranean

Thousands of people in rickety boats and rubber dinghies in the Mediterranean were rescued over the weekend in one of the largest life-saving operations to date led by Italy’s coastguard.

Italian officials say some 5,800 were plucked from the sea on Sunday (3 May) and Saturday. Around 10 were found dead off the Libyan coast with more 2,150 of them rescued on Sunday alone. The migrants were taken to southern Italian ports.

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MV Phoenix, a rescue frigate operated by the NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also took part a day after its inaugural launch from Malta. The boat saved 369 migrants on Sunday, said the MSF.

The rescue tally is expected to rise as smugglers in Libya take advantage of calm seas and good weather to send tens of thousands of migrants towards Europe. Italian officials estimated some 200,000 could disembark for Italy by the end of the year.

The EU’s border surveillance mission, Triton, also took part in operations that involved 13 vessels, including two cargo ships and two supply boats.

The French frigate, Commandant Birot, rescued 217 migrants from three boats and arrested two suspected people smugglers, reports the Guardian.

The Birot is part of Triton, a scaled-down version of a much larger and now defunct Italian search and rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum.

The EU mission has drawn criticism from human rights organisations and the chief of the European Parliament for its limited mandate and for its focus on surveillance instead of rescue.

Triton has a border surveillance mandate but is able to conduct rescues when nearby boats signal distress.

EU leaders at a summit in April promised to triple Triton’s monthly funding to around €9 million and increase the number of leased military assets from member states in the wake of some 1,700 drowning deaths this year alone.

Other plans include stepping up relations with countries from where people are leaving from in the first place.

The European Commission, along with France, Germany, Italy, Malta and the UK, met in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in late April as part of the so-called ‘Khartoum Process’.

The leaders discussed human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants from the Horn of Africa through North Africa with officials from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan.

Pasquale Lupoli, a director at the International Organisation for Migration, who also participated in the Khartoum talks said on Friday (1 May) that the situation facing both sides of the Mediterranean is an "emergency".

“This is not a situation that can be solved through humanitarian emergency response measures alone,” he added.

The weekend rescues were sharply criticised by French far-right politician Marine Le Pen who told Europe-1 radio on Sunday that France should ship migrants back to the north African shore so "traffickers know that no migrant will come ashore on our coasts".

The most rescues to date took place on 12 and 13 April, when 6,500 people were saved.

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