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IOM: Some 3,800 Migrants Rescued from Mediterranean since Friday

  • VOA News

Migrants wait to disembark from a tug boat after being rescued in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, southern Italy, Feb. 17, 2015.

Migrants wait to disembark from a tug boat after being rescued in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, southern Italy, Feb. 17, 2015.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday that 933 people had arrived on the island of Lampedusa over the previous 24 hours.

These latest arrivals, thought to be African or Syrian, were among some 3,800 migrants rescued at sea since last Friday, according to IOM.

More than 640 rescued migrants were taken to the town of Porto Empedocle on Sicily.

According to Italy’s Ministry of Interior, 3,528 migrants arrived in the country by sea in January. Totals for February already have exceeded last month’s arrivals, a sign that the human smuggling season is starting earlier this year than in the past.

File - An Italian Navy photo taken on Dec. 4, 2014, shows a rescue crew on a dinghy (R) approaching migrants on a boat some 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

File - An Italian Navy photo taken on Dec. 4, 2014, shows a rescue crew on a dinghy (R) approaching migrants on a boat some 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

The director of IOM’s Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean, Federico Soda, warned that he expects more such voyages as long as the violence in Libya continuous.

“Migrants are forced to travel on unseaworthy boats and in dire weather conditions,” said Soda. “Given these circumstances, the [relatively small] number and the kind of ships used at the moment would be unable to rescue a large number of people fleeing Libya,."

IOM said in its statement that "Libya’s deepening chaos raises the stakes for Italy and all of Europe as officials across the continent debate the future of the European Union’s border control policies."

Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum rescued over 172,000 migrants from October 2013 until late last year. It has been replaced by the Triton operation, which is run by the EU border cooperation agency Frontex.

Human traffickers are taking advantage of chaos in Africa and Middle East, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri told Reuters news agency. She said 2015 could see a record number of migrants.

"There are obvious reasons,” Leggeri said, “because of the geopolitical situation in Syria and the Middle East, because one can say that in Libya there is a failed state and there is no government able to have effective control on the territory, which makes it easier for organized crime to flourish there.”

Frontex is preparing for spring and summer, generally when the number of migrants surges, said Leggeri.

Many asylum seekers and illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Western Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and hundreds have died during such dangerous voyages .

About 3,300 people lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean last year. More than 300 people are believed to have drowned earlier this month after leaving Libya in inflatable rafts.

The United Nation's refugee agency, the UNHCR, has said that Triton is inadequate to handle such a flow of migrants, and has urged Europe to take a new approach.

Leggeri said the Triton program, which had been planned to run only until the end of January, would continue through this year. It has already helped save as many as 9,000 people, he added.

Some information in this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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