Ships rescue 3,700 migrants in just two days

North African immigrants, Lampedusa. [Vito Manzari/Flickr]

Ships patrolling the Mediterranean have plucked more than 3,700 migrants from overcrowded and unsafe boats in the last two days, Italy’s coastguard said on Tuesday (23 June).

Ships from several countries, including those taking part in a European Union mission called “Triton”, went to the aid of 18 different boats carrying 2,741 migrants on Monday, a spokeswoman said.

Around a thousand more migrants were saved in six rescue operations on Tuesday, the coastguard said in a statement. They had been travelling in a fishing boat and five rubber dinghies.

Separately, almost 300 other migrants rescued two days ago arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo aboard a ship run by Doctors Without Borders. Authorities also brought ashore a corpse in a metal coffin.

The victim had been shot dead by men travelling on another boat near the Libyan coast, according to testimony by the migrants, Italian media reported. A Sicilian court is investigating the death.

Italy has been trying to convince the EU to help it cope with waves of migrants arriving in overcrowded boats from North Africa, with official estimates putting the total at 60,000 so far this year. Almost 2,000 have died trying to make the crossing, the United Nations refugee agency has estimated.

The EU this year agreed to triple funding for sea rescues off the coasts of Italy and Greece, but the 28-nation bloc is deeply divided on how to manage the migrants once they come ashore.

Bloc leaders will meet later this week to discuss a European Commission plan to distribute 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers, now stuck in Italy and Greece, among other EU nations.

The plan for compulsory quotas was rejected by EU interior ministers on 16 June, and reportedly now the immigrants’ relocation is foreseen on a voluntary basis.

>> Read: Ministers reject Commission’s immigrant quota proposal

The Commission plan also foresees creating detention centres called “hot spots” to better identify migrants and refugees and calls for those who do not qualify for asylum to be quickly deported.

With thousands of new boat arrivals each week, France is increasingly turning back migrants seeking to reach northern European countries.

Hundreds have taken shelter in or near Italy’s train stations, especially in Rome and Milan. More than 100 migrants have been sleeping rough along the Italy-France border for almost two weeks.

On 27 May, the Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states. The Commission's scheme needs to be adopted by the Council of the European Union, voting by qualified majority.

It was clear from the outset that the proposal stood no chance of being accepted by most member states, given the reactions of EU leaders at the extraordinary summit on migration on 23 April (see background).

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

It also became obvious that many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing, but consider that the proposed quotas need to be re-worked.

>>Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

>> Read : Many EU countries say “no” to immigration quotas

On 16 June EU interior ministers rejected the plan based on mandatory quotas. The EU summit on 25-26 June will discuss the issue further.

>> Read: Ministers reject Commission’s immigrant quota proposal

  • 25-26 June: EU summit, immigration to feature among the issues to be discussed

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