Migrants are crossing the Mediterranean to Italy at a record rate in 2017, according to the Italian government.
Migrant arrivals are up by two key measures, the Italian Interior Ministry reported on Friday: People are making the sea crossing from North Africa to Italy at a higher rate than at any time during the past three years. In addition, fifty-seven percent more migrants have arrived in Italy by boat this year compared to the same period last year.
Over the weekend almost 1,300 migrants were rescued and brought to Sicily by several ships working in the Mediterranean, and another 500 were expected to arrive this week, the Italian coast guard told Reuters.
One 16-year-old boy died after being picked up by the Norwegian rescue ship the Siem Pilot, the ship’s commander, Jorgen Berg, told Reuters Sunday. Berg said the boy died of an unknown illness.
— SOS MEDITERRANEE GER (@SOSMedGermany) March 4, 2017
Another five migrants remained missing after they were blown off their ship near the coast of Libya on Saturday. The rest of the people in their ship were picked up by the Spanish group Proactiva Open Arms, AFP reported Sunday.
About 440 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2017, the UN refugee agency estimates. The International Organization for Migration put the number at 487, compared to 425 during the same period in 2015.
— Flavio Di Giacomo (@fladig) March 3, 2017
Since late 2013, Italy has seen more than half a million migrants cross the Mediterranean by boat. The highest year on record was 2016, when 181,000 migrants arrived. Although the majority of them are from Africa, they also include Syrians and Bangladeshis.
This year’s surge in crossings comes as the European Union tries to slow migrant arrivals thanks to a deal struck with the UN-backed government in Libya in February.
Aid groups think that the most recent arrivals are motivated by increasingly dangerous living conditions for migrants in Libya, and by a worry that the Mediterranean route to Europe may soon close.
By Avi Davis