“We are certainly at more than 1,000 migrants involved in Sunday’s rescue operation,” a spokesman for the coast guard in Rome told Reuters news agency.
Better weather since last week has encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey from North Africa, where a breakdown of order has made it almost impossible to police the traffickers who pack people onto rickety boats.
The development came in as many days after reports of Gambian survivors in a boat accident in which over 300 people died.
A Gambian source in Italy told The Standard yesterday: “Yes, it is true that many Gambians have started arriving since Friday. My brother is in Libya and he is hoping to make his journey in the next few days.
“These people have been in Tripoli for months and they have faced all sorts of hardship and abuse. I think it’s best for them to capitalise and come to Italy as soon as possible even though the weather nowadays is not very favourable.”
Italian authorities defied the UN’s warnings against closing their Mare Nostrum search and rescue mission in December even when migration through the Mediterranean claimed 3,500 lives last year alone.
However, Reuters on Sunday reported that the Italian coast guard went to the rescue of the migrants after they ran into difficulty in the sea, between Europe and North Africa. The coast guard, according to the news agency, said it had plucked more than 130 people from two rubber boats about 180 km (110 miles) south of the island of Lampedusa so far, and was working to save eight more vessels.
The coast guard ship Fiorillo and several cutters were sent to the latest rescue, along with four merchant ships and two tug boats which were diverted to join the operation. One navy ship, two police patrol ships and a Maltese vessel had also been mobilised, the coast guard spokesman said.]]>