6, December 2016
More than 1,300 refugees have been rescued and 16 bodies recovered from the Mediterranean Sea over the past three days, the Italian coastguard says. Italy’s coastal service said 285 of the refugees were rescued on Saturday, 791 on Sunday and 231 on Monday, making up 1,307 the total number of refugees saved from the sea. Reports said all the refugees were packed on board nine different vessels, small wooden boats and inflatable dinghies.
Coastguard officials said efforts to resuscitate two women found on a dinghy had failed. “Two women died of hypothermia in spite of the colossal efforts of the team. We are heartbroken, again,” they said. Among those pulled to safety were a number of Syrian families traveling with young children from Libya. Thousands of people have died over the past months crossing the perilous sea route from the Libyan coast to Europe in search of a better life.
The coasts of Libya have become a launch pad for asylum seekers heading for Europe. A large number of them are Sub-Saharan Africans attempting to reach Italy. In response to the widening crisis, the European Union launched Operation Sophia in 2015. The naval mission was meant to reduce the flow of people smuggled across the Mediterranean, and to train the Libyan coastguard to fight smugglers’ boats. Yet, the operation is largely viewed as a failure. At least 4,700 people have been killed this year trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The figure has already exceeded the toll in the entire 2015, which was more than 3,600.
The International Organization for Migration has recorded a high number of refugee arrivals in Italy from North Africa in 2016. It says 173,000 have reached the Italian shores since the start of this year, nearly 14,000 more than the figure in 2015 and breaking a 170,000 record registered in 2014. The surge in Mediterranean journeys from the south into Italy came after the European Union reached a deal with Turkey in March to curb the arrivals in Greece from the east.
The European Union has been dealing with an excessive influx of refugees in recent years, driven by war, famine, poverty and persecution. The crisis has largely divided the continent over how to deal with the situation. A number of European countries have adopted harsh measures, including toughening border controls, shutting refugees out, and even erecting razor-wire fences. But the problem remains far from resolved.