The route from Libya to Italy is the busiest waterway for those trying to enter Europe. The recent surge in numbers is because of conflicts and repression in Africa and the Middle East. So, people fleeing from these places travel in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats, even hiding in the cargo holds. The vessels carry on board more than ten times as many people as it was designed for. Some of those on board had to pay smugglers to come up for air from the cargo hold.
According to UN reports, 264,500 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, close to 104,000 have landed in Italy and 160,000 arrived in Greece. More than 2,000 people have died this year in attempts to reach Europe.
On Saturday Italy’s coastguard received distress calls from more than 20 vessels and about 4,400 migrants were rescued from boats off the coast of Libya, in one of the biggest single-day operations mounted to date
- Two Italian navy ships responded to two wooden boats in danger of sinking.
- The Cigala Fulgosi rescued 507 people, and the Vega rescued 432.
- A boat belonging to ‘Doctors without Borders’ rescued 311 people, including a newborn baby.
- Various other Italian vessels and the Norwegian military ship Siem Pilot were pressed into service.
A senator criticised the Prime Minister for using Italian forces to do the people smugglers’ business for them and ensure Italy is invaded. Anti-immigration politicians urge the Italian government to take the migrants and refugees to disused Italian oil rigs off Libya. Meanwhile, six Egyptian nationals were arrested in the city of Palermo in Sicily for people smuggling after a rescue on 19 August.