News / Africa

Thousands of Migrants Rescued During Sea Crossing to Italy

In this photo released by the Italian Navy on May 22, 2014, a fishing boat filled with migrants receives aid from an Italian Navy motor boat.
In this photo released by the Italian Navy on May 22, 2014, a fishing boat filled with migrants receives aid from an Italian Navy motor boat.
Lisa Schlein
The International Organization for Migration reports tens of thousands of migrants have been rescued while making the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Italy this year.  IOM attributes this to a rescue operation initiated by Italy in late 2013.  

This past weekend more than 3,000 boat people who crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa managed to reach Italy.  Their arrival in Sicily put the number of migrants who have successfully made this perilous journey to more than 40,000 in the first five months of this year.

That is close to the 42,000 total for all of 2013 reported by the International Organization for Migration.  Most arrive in Italy from Libya, often in unsafe smugglers' boats.

IOM spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the dramatic rescue of some 40,000 boat people this year is a result of the so-called Mare Nostrum operation started by Italy in October.  She says this followed the tragic drowning of nearly 400 people when their boat caught fire and nobody was there to help.

“They have huge ships that patrol the Mediterranean Sea even in international waters, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They take the boat people.  They rescue them.  On this boat, they have medical facilities.  They have staff that is trained to help those people and they bring them to Sicily," said Berthiaume.

IOM says the more than 3,000 migrants rescued on Friday and Saturday included Syrians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Eritreans, Somalis, Nigerians and other sub-Saharan nationals.  The migrants told their rescuers they did not want to stay in Libya because of insecurity.  So they set out for Italy, many hoping to go on from there to other European countries.

Berthiaume says it is very difficult to stop people from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean despite the risks.

“You have all these young people in the South who are fleeing violence, but not only violence.  Most of them, the big majority, are migrants that are fleeing poverty and are ready to take incredible risk to get a better life for them and for their children.  One has to be highly desperate to take one of those boats and even bring with his wife and children and risk the life of all the family.  It is because they are very desperate," she said.

IOM says permanent solutions must be found to end irregular migration.  The agency says it is up to the countries of origin, transit, and destination to enact policies to manage and regularize migration for the benefit of all.

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