By: Valerie Johnston
Between Thursday, May 18 and Saturday, May 20, 2017, the Italian coastguard reported pulling more than 5,000 people from the Mediterranean Sea. Most of them were in international waters, and just under 600 were picked up by the Libyan coastguard and returned to that country.
Reports say that the number of migrants to Italy has escalated substantially within the past year (with most estimates marking a 30% increase). Sadly, one of every 39 perishes, with more than 1,200 people having already died in 2017.
Most of the migrants to Italy are coming from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, where one report notes that “warmer weather has encouraged even more human traffickers based in Libya to launch overcrowded, unseaworthy dinghies or small wooden boats, leaving migrants to the mercy of the deadly Mediterranean Sea.” Fleeing poverty, conflict and war, they are often intercepted in waters just off the Libyan coast where Italian and Spanish ships offer rescue efforts.
During Thursday’s rescue operations, a chartered vessel in the hands of Medecins sans Frontieres (also known as Medicine/Doctors without Borders) rescued more than 700 migrants, most of them young children and even a baby estimated to be less than six weeks old.
With a G7 summit slated to occur on the island of Sicily during the first week of June, many of the migrants will have to be sent to Sardinia. Sicilian ports will have a ban on migrants disembarking at any of their ports during the conference, meaning that the much smaller island of Sardinia will have to handle any new arrivals.
The International Organization for Migration, IOM, tracks the numbers of migrants rescued each year and says that more than 46,000 migrants to Italy have already made the journey and arrived in Italy during 2016, indicating an enormous increase in just a calendar year.