Italian coastguard rescues over 1,000 migrants

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Italy’s coastguard said on Wednesday it had rescued more than 1,000 migrants from two fishing boats in the Mediterranean overnight, while two bodies had been recovered.

The two “complex” operations off the coast of Syracuse in Sicily, involving boats from Libya, followed an alert on Tuesday from Alarm Phone, a group running a hotline for migrants needing rescue.

From the first boat, about 35 miles from the Si-cilian coast, an Italian coastguard ship rescued 416 migrants while a Spanish patrol vessel working with EU border force Frontex rescued another 78. From a second fishing boat, 60 miles from the coast, vessels from the coastguard and Italy’s financial crime police intervened to rescue 663 migrants and “two lifeless bodies” were recovered, it said.

Italy’s new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni vowed on Tuesday to stop migrants crossing in boats from Africa, in her first speech to parliament since taking office at the weekend.

Meloni said her government, the country’s most far-right since World War II, wanted to “stop illegal departures and break up human trafficking”, notably by preventing departures from crisis-hit Libya. She insisted it was time to stop traffickers “being the ones who decide who gets in”.

Italy has long been on the migration frontline, taking in tens of thousands of people who attempt the world’s deadliest crossing yearly.

Two charity ships currently operating in the Mediterranean, the SOS Humanity’s ship Humanity 1 and SOS Mediterranee’s Ocean Viking, were on Tuesday carrying around 300 people between them after multiple rescues.

But Meloni’s new interior minister, Matteo Pi-antedosi, said the ships were “not in line with the spirit of European and Italian regulations” on border security, and that he was deliberating whether to ban their entry into Italian waters. Piantedosi has close ties to Meloni’s coalition partner Matteo Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking migrants at sea in 2019 during his stint as interior minister.

Humanitarian groups including Save the Children and Amnesty International urged Italy on Wednesday to scrap a controversial EU-sponsored deal with Libya to stop migrant boat crossings to Europe.

Under the 2017 accord, Italy and the EU help fund, train and equip the Libyan coastguard, which then intercepts migrants in the Mediterranean and forcibly returns them to the strife-torn country.

“Europe, defender of human rights, should under no circumstances make deals with a country… where migrants are tortured, become victims of slavery or of sexual abuse,” Claudia Lodesani, head of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Italy, told a press confer-ence in Rome. Campaigners say nearly 100,000 people have been intercepted in this way over five years. Many are believed to have ended up in Libyan detention centres, compared by Pope Francis to concentration camps.

Critics lament a lack of accountability, with no public information on who receives the money in Libya, while rescuers slam a “Wild West” situation with armed militias posing as the Libyan coastguard.

Italy has long been on the migration frontline, taking in tens of thousands of people who attempt the world’s deadliest crossing yearly.

It had numerous agreements during the 2000s with Libyan dictator Moamer Qadhafi on curbing migratory flows. The partnership was suspended following the collapse of the Libyan government and the European Court of Human Rights’ 2012 condemnation of Italy for intercepting and forcibly returning people to Libya.

But wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya sparked a wave of refugees in 2015, with over 150,000 people crossing in boats to Italy, followed by over 180,000 people in 2016.—AFP

 

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