Up to 4,200 migrants sailing across the Mediterranean Sea were rescued by European ships on Friday, but 17 people died during the journey on unseaworthy boats. The number rescued in 24 hours appears to be one of the highest in recent years.
The 17 bodies were found on three inflatable dinghies, from which over 300 other migrants were rescued alive, the Italian Navy said on Twitter.
Friday’s rescue operations were led by the Italian coastguard, and involved German and Irish naval ships working under the auspices of the EU’s Frontex border agency.
A similar international maritime mission off the coast of Sicily on Thursday resulted in the rescue of over 700 migrants from Libya in six boats.
So far, the busiest days this year have been on April 12 when 3,791 migrants were rescued and the May 2 rescue of 3,690 people.
According British activist John Wight, the drowning of hundreds of refugees in the Mediterranean is “a crime against humanity,” and “the ultimate responsibility lies with Western governments that have proved themselves the enemy of everything good in the world and a friend to everything bad.”
Over 40,400 boat migrants, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict-stricken countries such as Syria and Eritrea, have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
New statistics gathered by IOM confirm 2015 appears to be “an even deadlier year than 2014,” when nearly 3,300 migrants perished trying to enter Europe. While last year the number of migrants dying in all Mediterranean crossings from January to April was 96, this year’s toll is an estimated 1,770 so far through to April 30, IOM said.
IOM’s team in Italy has recently reported a persisting trend of growing numbers of women from Africa, particularly Nigerians.
“In the first four months of 2015, we have registered an increase in the number of incoming Nigerian women – three times as many as during the same period last year. There are well-founded concerns that many of them may be victims of trafficking,” Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean in Rome, stated earlier this month.
By mid-May, some 62,500 people had crossed the Mediterranean, and at least 1,800 have died, the agency added.
“It happens a lot in waves, you could have a few days where nothing happens, then there can be a high number of arrivals at the same time,” Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman for the IOM in Italy, told AFP.
Speaking in Lisbon on Friday, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid said his country will consider the naval campaign the EU plans to curb the migrant problem “almost a military intervention.”
Essid added that it will not help, as “if you stop the boats in this area, they will just move to the other side.”