Calm Seas Bring Surge of Migrant Smugglers to Italian Island, Over 1,200 People Arrive with Several Missing at Sea


In the aftermath of calm seas, migrant smugglers have launched dozens of boats from Tunisia, resulting in around 1,200 people ending up on a tiny Italian island, while several others have been reported missing at sea, according to the Italian Coast Guard on Monday. Coast guard officials stated that they responded to 35 boats that had departed from Tunisia, and three of them encountered shipwrecks.

In one incident, about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Lampedusa island, the coast guard and border police vessels reported three migrants as missing. In another incident, in Malta’s search-and-rescue area, survivors stated that around 20 people were missing. In the third incident, also in Malta’s rescue area, Italian rescuers recovered the body of a man. The coast guard further reported that approximately 20 more boats crowded with migrants were in the sea on Monday night.

The Italian Coast Guard, Border Police, European border protection agency Frontex, and a humanitarian organization were all involved in providing assistance, utilizing air and naval assets. Dozens of migrants were seen on Monday morning near Lampedusa’s port, awaiting transfer to the overcrowded shelter on the island, or eventually to Sicily or the Italian mainland.

In a separate incident, on Monday, a Tunisian fishing boat near Lampedusa provided aid to a distressed migrant boat carrying 34 people and a body, and the survivors were later transferred to an Italian coast guard vessel, as reported by Italian news sources.

Last Sunday, with calmer seas after four days of rough conditions, a total of 640 migrants arrived on Lampedusa, and hundreds more on Monday. Last week, Italian authorities used commercial ferries and military vessels to transfer migrants from Lampedusa to Sicily or the mainland, which brought Lampedusa’s migrant centre below its capacity. However, with the recent influx of boats since Sunday, the number of migrants on the island quickly swelled, and authorities are now scrambling to make arrangements for further transfers.

In another development, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders stated that its rescue vessel, Geo Barents, came to the aid of 75 migrants, including 40 minors, in a wooden boat foundering in international waters off Libya on Monday. The rescue vessel is now waiting for Italian authorities to assign it a port to disembark the migrants. The right-wing government in Italy has been sending charity vessels to ports in northern Italy, far from the rescue area, in an attempt to limit the time spent at sea. Government officials argue that these vessels encourage illegal migration by providing safety to smugglers’ passengers.

Despite the crackdown on smugglers and charity vessels led by far-right Premier Giorgia Meloni, migrants continue to risk dangerous voyages in the Central Mediterranean, departing from Tunisia, Libya, and Turkey, in the hopes of finding work or reuniting with relatives in Europe. According to Italian Interior Ministry figures, by Monday morning, over 36,600 migrants had arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, which is more than four times the number for the same period in the past two years.

Most of the asylum bids of these migrants are rejected by Italy, as they are fleeing poverty rather than war or persecution. However, due to the limited number of countries with repatriation agreements with Italy, migrants who lose asylum bids often remain in legal limbo for years or attempt to make their way to northern European countries. Italy has been appealing to fellow European Union nations to share the responsibility of taking in some of the migrants, but these pleas have largely gone unanswered for years.

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