Over 4,000 irregular migrants arrive in Sicily in three days

he migrants are from various countries including Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Mali, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. 

An unprecedented 4,457 migrants and asylum seekers have reached Sicily in the past three days.

On Wednesday 2,307 migrants landed on the island. A further 550 arrived on Thursday and today (21/3) another 1,600 are arriving today. Ten more boats, believed to be carrying migrants, have also been spotted in the Channel of Sicily.

“These boats are coming from Libya. IOM has teams working with UNHCR and Save the Children on the island in the framework of the Praesidium project. They are positioned in Augusta, Pozzallo and Porto Empedocle to provide assistance and legal counselling to the arriving migrants,” says José Angel Oropeza, Director of IOM’s Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean in Rome.

The migrants are from various countries including Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Mali, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. They include families who in some cases have been accidentally separated during rescue operations. IOM and its partners are now trying to reunite them, in cooperation with the local authorities.

In the first 11 weeks of this year, some 5,745 irregular migrants arrived in Italy from North Africa – a dramatic increase from the 500 who were registered during the same period last year.

In October 2013 Italy launched the “Mare Nostrum” rescue operation designed to rescue migrants in the southern Mediterranean, with the participation of the Italian navy, army, air force, carabinieri, customs service, coast guard and police. Since then, Mare Nostrum has rescued some 10,134 migrants.

“This situation shows that search and rescue activities carried out by Mare Nostrum should continue,” says Oropeza. “But it also underscores the need to stop these people from risking their lives at sea by setting up transit centres where migrants and asylum seekers can get information about the risks and their legal migration options before they embark on dangerous sea journeys. Another solution might be to allow them to apply for asylum at European consulates en route before they board the boats.”

Oropeza fears that the instability in Libya could result in Italy seeing growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the coming weeks. He has called for improved contingency planning to ensure that adequate resources are deployed to receive them.

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