Italy’s Coast Guard says it has rescued more than 4,500 migrants from the Mediterranean in the past 24 hours. Italy has become a main entry point for Europe-bound asylum seekers since the closure of the Balkan route.
A single Italian patrol vessel on Tuesday saved more than 1,100 people from a stricken wooden boat and five rubber dinghies en route from North Africa to Sicily, Italy’s Coast Guard said on Tuesday.
According to officials, the wooden boat alone had more than 435 migrants on board, including 124 women and 18 children. Meanwhile, four Italian naval ships rescued 900 other people drifting at sea.
A number of others were intercepted by boats belonging to aid groups, the EU border patrol agency Frontex, and the EU’s Operation Sophia anti-people smuggling mission.
The Coast Guard said it coordinated a total of 30 separate rescue operations in the Mediterranean on Tuesday.
Italy on the frontline
A surge in arrivals in 2015 prompted a number of European countries to close their borders to prevent migrants, who had reached Turkey and Greece and traveled onwards through the Balkans, from reaching Western Europe. The effective closure of the so-called Balkan route means Italy has become a main entry point for migrants.
The Italian interior ministry said last week that more than 70,000 people arrived by boat between January and June this year – almost the same number from the same period in 2015, and slightly higher than the number of arrivals in 2014.
More than 3,700 migrants died while attempting to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. It said most of the boats set off from Libya and Egypt.
nm/jr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)