Italy rescues 2,000 migrants in 48 hours

Navy and coastguard rescue 2,128 North African refugees who were travelling in small boats off the coast of Sicily.

    Italy rescues 2,000 migrants in 48 hours
    The arrival of 2,128 people in two days underlines the scale of illegal migration into southern Europe [EPA]

    Italian naval and coastguard vessels have rescued more than 2,000 migrants travelling in boats from North Africa in just 48 hours, according to authorities.

    Wednesday's rescue came a day after some 500 people forced their way into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla, the largest number to cross the border in almost a decade.

    The Italian navy said 2,128 migrants were rescued by ships operating in the Mare Nostrum taskforce off the southern coast of Sicily, including 596 picked up at sea on March 17 who were expected to arrive in the port of Augusta.

    Three merchant ships also took part in the rescue operation, the navy statement said.

    The arrivals underline the scale of illegal migration into southern Europe. Italy has struggled for decades with a steady stream of migrants travelling in small, unsafe boats from North Africa to the tiny island of Lampedusa, midway between Tunisia and Sicily. But the problem has ballooned since the Arab Spring in 2011, the breakdown of order in Libya and civil war in Syria.

    According to latest data from Frontex, the European Union's border agency, more than 20,000 people entered Europe illegally through Lampedusa and other parts of Sicily in the third quarter of 2013 alone. They accounted for almost half of all illegal border crossings into the 28-nation EU.

    Italy has stepped up naval and air patrols off the coast of Sicily since hundreds of migrants drowned last year in two separate disasters near Lampedusa.

    The number of arrivals is expected to rise as sailing conditions improve with the onset of spring.

     

    SOURCE: Reuters


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    'We scoured for days without sleeping, just clothes on our backs'

    The Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Five years on, we revisit this story.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    Daughters of al-Shabab

    What draws Kenyan women to join al-Shabab and what challenges are they facing when they return to their communities?