Italy picks up another 700 boat migrants

Migrants arriving in Lampedusa. [Noborder Network/Flickr]

Italian ships have picked up almost 700 migrants in seven inflatable boats and further rescue operations are underway, as calm seas favoured departures from Libya for the Italian coast, the coast guard said on Sunday (12 April).

On Friday, around 1,000 migrants were rescued, with more than 500 reaching Porto Empedocle in Sicily on Sunday (12 April). Most of the migrants who disembarked were Eritrean and Somali, said a port official.

There were dozens of women among them wearing colourful headscarves, and they brought several children with them. Many of the migrants were barefoot. Another 600 migrants are expected to arrive in the port of Reggio Calabria later today.

>>Read: Thousands of African child migrants feared in thrall to Italian traffickers

Refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa regularly risk the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean, often between Libya and Sicily, to reach the European Union.

The number of migrant boats has picked up in the past two weeks as the spring weather has made the attempted crossing safer. In February, more than 300 drowned when attempting the crossing in cold weather and rough seas.

>>Read: EU’s Operation Triton to help Italy cope with migrants

Around 3,500 are estimated to have drowned last year when more than 170,000 migrants managed to reach Italy by sea.

At least 480 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the first three months of this year, compared with fewer than 50 fatalities during the same period last year, the International Organisation for Migration said on Friday.

>>Read: Commission to help Italy cope with immigrants

The number of migrants entering the European Union illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to EU border control agency Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the often dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

The chaotic situation in Libya has sparked a rise in migrant boats setting out for Europe from its unpoliced ports carrying refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

On Sunday alone the Italian coastguard rescued a total of 3,791 migrants, bringing the total to 5,629 since Friday, authorities said.

A record number of migrants will drown in the Mediterranean this year if the current death rate remains unchecked, after 10 times as many migrants lost their lives during the first three months of 2015 as during the equivalent period in 2014.

At least 486 asylum seekers have drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, compared with 46 in the first three months of 2014, according to preliminary figures supplied to the Guardian by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

>> Read: Record number of migrants expected to drown in Mediterranean this year

The number of illegal migrants arriving in Greece by sea has tripled in the first three months of 2015, the Greek coast guard said on 9 April. The period saw 10,445 migrants arriving, compared with 2,863 for the corresponding months last year.

In March alone, 6,493 migrants arrived along Greece's coastline and islands, mostly on islands near Turkey, the main embarkment point for the people smugglers' boats.

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