Saturday Mar 11, 2023
More than 1,000 migrants were brought ashore to southern Italy on Saturday after coastguards launched major rescue operations for three boats struggling in rough seas off Calabria.
One coastguard vessel brought 584 people to the city of Reggio Calabria, while another escorted a packed fishing boat carrying 487 migrants into the port of Crotone, close to the scene of a Feb. 26 shipwreck that killed at least 74 people.
Local officials said further 200 migrants had been picked up off the coast of Sicily and would be ferried to Catania later in the day.
More than 4,000 people have reached Italy since Wednesday, compared to around 1,300 for the whole of March last year, as the country's conservative government struggles to contain the influx, despite repeated promises to stem the flow.
The coastguard dispatched eight boats on Friday to various rescue operations, while a naval patrol boat was also called in to prevent any repeat of last month's disaster when a migrant ship broke apart a stone's throw from the Calabrian coast.
The body of a young girl was recovered on Saturday, bringing the death toll to 74. Seventy-nine people survived the shipwreck, but around 30 are still missing, presumed dead.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Italian authorities should have done more to prevent the disaster. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has rejected the suggestion and looked to pin the blame entirely on human traffickers.
Her cabinet on Thursday introduced tougher jail terms for people smugglers and promised to open up more channels for legal migration. Late last year, it cracked down on charity rescue boats, accusing them of acting as a taxi service for migrants.
The measure has led to a sharp reduction in the number of rescue ships patrolling off North Africa, where the majority of the migrants set sail.
However, departures have nonetheless picked up dramatically, with roughly 17,000 migrants reaching Italy by boat so far this year against some 6,000 in the same period of 2022.