Migrant rescues in Med hit three-year high, new data shows

Andrea Vogt
A migrant from Cameroon cries with an NGO rescue worker after being rescued last month. Italian authorities have reported a fresh wave of migrant rescues to Sicily in March - Emilio Morenatti

More than 1,200 migrants arrived in Sicily’s ports on Sunday as the number of winter sea rescues in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy hit a new three-year high.

An estimated 15,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, a 57 per cent increase from the same time period in 2016, according to newly released data from Italy's interior ministry.

Italian navy ships, Frontex border patrol vessels and non-profit rescue boats unloaded the exhausted men, women and children in Pozzallo, Catania and Messina after rescuers responded to a fresh wave of dinghy departures from the coast of Libya.

“Unfortunately today we are seeing many, many unaccompanied minors,” said Save the Children’s Giovanna Di Benedetto from the port of Catania.  “And as is the case with most who arrive from West Africa, many of them have lived through violence and months of deprivation.”

Many West Africans arrive in Libya after crossing the Sahara only to find themselves detained in prisons or camps by militias who use them as slave-labour before passing them on to boat traffickers.  

A growing number of those fleeing Libya also report having lived there for years as foreign workers employed in the service and construction sectors or as domestic help.

According to data released on Friday from Italy’s interior ministry, the number of winter migrant arrivals since January 1 2017 is 81 per cent above the same period in 2015.  

Tracking data also shows most migrants arriving this year claim to be from Guinea, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, followed by Bangladesh, Gambia, Senegal and Morocco.

At least five men were detained upon arrival for trafficking-related charges after being identified as helmsmen, Italian media reported.   Two Tunisian men were also detained after authorities determined they had already been deported from Italy once before.