Italy rescues 3700 North African refugees in 24 hours
The human tidal wave of refugees seeking to escape the lawlessness and chaos of Libya and other North African states is increasing as calm seas are contributing to the crush of people seeking asylum in Italy.
Following the horrific incident last month where a refugee ship capsized, killing more than 900, the Italian government and European Union have roused themselves and are now intercepting the refugee ships off the coast of Libya.
Nearly 3,700 migrants were rescued from boats near the coast of Libya on Saturday and early Sunday and more rescue operations were expected during the day as people smugglers took advantage of calm seas, Italy's coast guard said.
All of those rescued were being brought back to Italian shores, a spokesman for the coast guard said, and some reached Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island, during the night.
The mild spring weather and the calm summer seas are expected to push total arrivals inItaly for 2015 to 200,000, an increase of 30,000 over last year, according to an Interior Ministry projection.
The nationalities of those rescued had not yet been determined, he said. Italy coordinated the rescue efforts mounted by a total of 13 vessels. Italy's navy, coast guard and finance police were involved, as was a French ship acting on behalf of the European border control agency.
Growing lawlessness and anarchy in Libya is giving free hand to people smugglers who make an average of 80,000 euros ($90,000) from each boatload of migrants, according to an ongoing investigation by a southern Italian court.
While the humanitarian crisis is real, some are accusing the EU of a hidden agenda in their rescue operations:
The EU has been accused of “cynically exploiting” the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean to further it’s dreams of European integration. Although Britain has deployed naval forces to assist in a rescue operation, France and Italy are blocking the mission until Britain agrees to take in thousands of migrants.
Last month Britain deployed HMS Bulwark, the Royal Navy’s flagship, and the frigate HMS Kent to assist in operations designed to smash the smuggling rings currently shipping migrants into Europe.
Following the sinking of one migrant ship which resulted in catastrophic loss of life, EU heads of state were all in agreement that patrols in the Mediterranean must be reinstated. One senior EU official said at the time “We are determined to destroy their business model.”
But the initiative has floundered, as Continental members have rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s condition that the British boats be used to take migrants to the nearest port, either in Italy or Malta.
According to the Sunday Express, Foreign Office sources are suggesting that France and Italy in particular are insisting that Britain “takes it’s fair share” of up to 25,000 migrants, with one source saying “The Prime Minister was very clear. However, there is increasing pressure from other nations that Britain should do more. Obviously, this has delayed things somewhat.”
UKIP’s migration spokesman Steven Woolfe has expressed his disgust at the cynical haggling, saying “It is to Britain’s credit that we were the first nation to offer and place real maritime support into the Mediterranean to help Italy.
“What seems to be happening is cynicism at its most repellent. Our humanitarian efforts are being held up by the wish of our Continental friends for Britain to be a full part of the EU asylum system. It looks as if the migrants lives are being held hostage to a dream of greater European integration. Shame on them.”
Never let a crisis go to waste.
Not surprisingly, the Italian people have quite a different view of the influx of foreigners than their government. The Italian economy is weak as it is and asking people to accept such a massive influx has already resulted in tensions between the new arrivals and citizens.
Italy and the EU are targeting the smugglers but it's a losing battle. The lucrative trade in humans is only increasing despite crackdowns and arrests in Libya and refugee camps in North Africa. It is going to be a long summer for the Italian navy on the Mediterranean.