The Italian navy and coast guard are rescuing about 1,300 refugees stranded in the central Mediterranean Sea, nearly two weeks after a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Calabria killed more than 70 people.
Photographs released by the Italian Coast Guard show three overcrowded boats sailing towards the Calabria region in southern Italy, the French news agency AFP reported. According to the Coast Guard, one of the boats with around 500 people on board was located approximately 130 km south of Crotone, and the other two a little further south, near Roccella Ionica.
The Coast Guard said operations “particularly complicated due to the large number of people on board the vessels”. The Italian Navy added that one of its ships “hurries to the assistance of the Coast Guard at maximum speed”.
On the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than Italy, meanwhile, according to the Italian media, 41 boats with 1,869 defectors arrived on Thursday evening and overnight, which is a record number in one day.
Less than two weeks ago, a shipwreck occurred off Calabria in the south of Italy, in which at least 73 refugees died, including 29 minors.
The police were unable to intercept the ship due to bad weather, and the coast guard, which is better equipped for more difficult conditions, was not activated as much.
Italy’s far-right government on Thursday passed tougher penalties for migrant smugglers, vowing to crack down on migrant boats while opening channels for legal immigration.
But this did not stop the arrival of defectors. Almost 3,000 defectors have arrived in Italy since Wednesday. In the whole of last March, there were around 300 of them.
The Italian Ministry of the Interior announced today that more than 17,500 defectors have already arrived in Italy by sea this year, which is almost three times more than in the same period last year. The number of arrivals via the central Mediterranean route increased by 116 percent in January and February, according to the European border protection agency Fronte.
Tunisian Coast Guard: We rescued more than 1,000 defectors
Meanwhile, the Tunisian Coast Guard announced that it had rescued 1,008 defectors at night off the coast of Tunisia, which is approximately 130 kilometers from Lampedusa at its closest point. Their spokesman added that they had prevented at least 25 more attempts to cross the border with Italy.