The number of migrants arriving in Italy from Tunisia and Liby has doubled in the first eight months of this year compared to last year. In August alone, more than 10,000 people arrived. Over the last few days, dozens of people were rescued from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean.
A total of 191 migrants were rescued overnight from seven different boats an Wednesday (September 1), according to Italian media reports.
That day, German charity Sea-Eye said on Twitter that its rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 picked up 29 people from a crowded boat that ran into difficulties in the central Mediterranean. Among them were reportedly 18 underage people -- including four babies -- and eight women, two of whom were pregnant.
The rescue came just days after the ship departed for its latest central Mediterranean mission. It was the first mission for the vessel after Italian authorities detained the vessel in early June for allegedly violating safety rules. Sea-Eye claimed that the authorities had detained the ship because its crew rescued "too many people."
19 migrants rescued by Astral crew, coast guards
One of the most recent rescue operations off Italy was carried out when the crew of the Astral, a motorized sailboat operated by Spanish non-profit Open Arms, discovered a wooden dinghy with 19 African migrants on board.
The ship was so overcrowded that water almost entered the vessel in the open sea off the Italian island of Lampedusa. The dinghy was in distress due to a broken outboard engine. There were two babies on board crying. That's according to a journalist with news agency Reuters who reported from aboard the Astral.
The Astral reportedly remained with the boat to provide support to the migrants including life jackets and water until the Italian coast guard arrived to pick them up. The Astral itself doesn't have enough space to take migrants onboard.
The Astral has assisted several boats carrying migrants this way since the start of its latest search and rescue (SAR) mission in the central Mediterranean Sea on August 23.
David Llado, Open Arms coordinator on the Astral, told Reuters that the route from Tunisia to Lampedusa has seen a "huge increase [in crossings]" over the past 12 months. "A couple of days ago, we had six rescues during one day. On the same day, over 800 people arrived in Lampedusa," he said.
Migrant rescue group Resqship also recently reported discovering migrants in the Mediterranean. On its Twitter account, the organization said that last week, the crew helped some 100 people in five operations. Their vessel, too, usually stays on site to provide support until the coast guard comes to bring them to safety.
Increase in arrivals, deaths, returns
The number of migrant boat arrivals from Libya and Tunisia to Italy has seen a sharp increase since May.
Last weekend, more than 500 migrants arrived on the island of Lampedusa alone. A nurse from the medical charity MSF said many were injured and some had scars from torture.
According to Italian interior ministry data, close to 40,000 migrants have disembarked on Italy's coasts in the first eight months of this year, twice as many as during the same period in the pandemic year 2020 and almost eight times as many as at the same point in time in 2019.
The vast majority of this year's arrivals were registered on the island of Sicily. Tunisian (28%), Bangladeshi (13%) and Egyptian (9%) were the three largest groups by nationality.
The death toll has been on the rise this year, too: The number of people who died trying to cross the central Mediterranean in the first eight months of this year has more than doubled compared to the same period last year, according to the UN migration agency IOM. The deadliest shipwreck so far this year took place in April off Libya, when 130 people drowned.
The number of people who attempted to cross the Mediterranean but were forced to return to northern Africa also increased. So far this year, Libya's coast guard has intercepted and brought back to Libya more than 23,000 people including over 1,600 women and 845 minors, according to the latest IOM figures. To put things into perspective, the number has nearly doubled compared to all of last year, when some 12,000 people were intercepted and returned.
With Reuters, dpa