More than 5,300 migrants and refugees have arrived on Italy's coasts irregularly so far in 2021. That's more than twice the number of people who arrived during the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, the number of migrants intercepted and returned to Libya reportedly also increased.
The Italian interior ministry released new data on migrant sea arrivals on Tuesday. According to the ministry, 5,306 migrants and refugees landed on Italy's coasts between January 1 and March 2 of this year. During the same period in 2020, only 2,553 migrants and refugees arrived on Italian shores.
A majority of arrivals thus far this year (3,896) were registered in February, including 398 minors.
The migrant rescue organization Mediterranea Saving Humans commented on the new arrival data, noting that arrivals had tripled in February 2021 compared to February 2020, "when 1,211 people arrived."
Mediterranea said that departures from Tunisia to Italy in particular had risen significantly, "especially since the month of August after an unsustainable economic collapse that continues to sow instability in the country."
More migrants intercepted, returned to Libya
In a statement published on March 2, Mediterranea also said that the number of people intercepted on boats headed towards Italy by "the so-called [Libyan] coast guard" had increased "in an alarming way."
According to the organization, 4,029 people were intercepted and arbitrarily detained between January 1 and March 1, including 222 minors. They also said that at least 142 people were reported missing and 28 found dead at sea during that period.
The organization said that three shipwrecks had taken place between Libya and Italy in February, and that the victims had not yet been identified.
On February 19, Italian coast guards and police rescued at least 45 people off the Italian island of Lampedusa after their boat capsized, but some of the boat's passengers could not be found.
On February 20, 77 people were rescued by a commercial ship off Libya, but according to Mediterranea, their boat had carried roughly 120 people. According to reports from the UN migration agency IOM, eight people had already drowned when rescuers arrived at the sinking boat; the rest perished during a difficult rescue operation.
On February 28, after a shipwreck a few kilometers from Libya's coast, 95 out of the 125 passengers were rescued, according Mediterranea -- leaving 30 people unaccounted for. According to other reports, however, survivors said that only 15 co-passengers had perished.
Human rights violations in Libya
Mediterranea denounced the return of migrants to Libya and the cooperation between Italy and the European Union with Libya's coast guard.
They said that "thousands of people [are] forced to flee by sea so as not to endure an arbitrary detention characterized by abuse, torture and grave violations of human rights," adding that because "Libya cannot be considered a safe port."