Italy copes with over 40,000 boat arrivals in 2014

IOM: 'International community must engage in broader debate on the ways migration is addressed, including policies addressing security, development cooperation and international protection'

In 2013, 42,000 migrants risked crossing the Mediterranean – mainly from Libya – on often unseaworthy boats and reached Italy, compared with over 40,000 in the first five
In 2013, 42,000 migrants risked crossing the Mediterranean – mainly from Libya – on often unseaworthy boats and reached Italy, compared with over 40,000 in the first five

With the arrival of over 3,000 boat people in Sicily over the weekend, the number of migrants who have managed to reach Italy from North Africa since the beginning of the year is almost equal to the total number of arrivals in 2013.

In 2013, 42,000 migrants risked crossing the Mediterranean – mainly from Libya – on often unseaworthy boats and reached Italy, compared with over 40,000 in the first five months of this year.

“Those are the lucky ones,” José Angel Oropeza, Director of the International Organisation for Mugration's coordinating office for the Mediterranean in Rome, said. “In 2013, at least 700 migrants did not make it to Italy and drowned. We will never know the exact number, as many more must have died at sea, who will never be accounted for. Last Month, 17 bodies were recovered at sea, after a shipwreck on May 13th.

“But so far the number of deaths has decreased, thanks to Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue operation, which patrols the Mediterranean with large, well equipped ships to rescue boat people and bring them to Sicily."

The Mare Nostrum operation started on 16 October 2013 after the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean. On 3 October, 368 men, women and children drowned when their boat caught fire and nobody was there to help.  Mare Nostrum’s aim is to save as many boat people as possible by patrolling the Mediterranean 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It is a huge operation to rescue over 40,000 people at sea,” Oropeza said, who fears that more people may try to cross from North Africa with the onset of milder weather and calmer seas.

The migrants rescued Friday and Saturday were Syrians, Eritreans, Gambians, Senegalese, Nigerians and Moroccans. They said that they did not want to stay in Libya because of insecurity. The same insecurity makes it difficult for the Libyan authorities to control flows of irregular migrants through its territory.

IOM has called on countries of origin, transit and destination to work together to find solutions to irregular migration flows. In the meantime, Italy faces a humanitarian crisis.

“In 2013 Germany received about 120,000 asylum requests and France 65,000 – both more than Italy. But this has become a huge humanitarian issue for Italy, which is alone in providing rescue operations, including in international waters. And desperate people fleeing danger or poverty in their home countries will, unfortunately, continue to take tremendous risks at sea in the hope of finding a better life,” notes Oropeza.

“The international community must now engage in a broader debate on the ways that migration is addressed, including policies addressing security, development cooperation and international protection, with a view to greater cooperation in the management of regular migration and a more effective fight against irregular migration,” he adds.

More in World