Peak Sailing Season Sees More Mediterranean Migrant Rescues, Deaths

The Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants bound to the coasts of Italy in 2014 (File photo). © Francesco Malavolta/IOM 2014

Italy - Nearly 5,000 migrants were rescued in the Channel of Sicily over the weekend, as part of the expanded European Union (EU) search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean.

They were picked up and brought ashore in Italy by ships from the Italian Coast Guard, the Italian navy and others, including the British navy’s amphibious transport ship HMS Bulwark.

The rescued migrants were brought to the ports of Catania, Porto Empedocle, Augusta, Pozzallo, Trapani and Lampedusa (Sicily), Crotone (Calabria), Taranto (Apulia) and Cagliari (Sardinia).

Their main countries of origin were Eritrea, Syria, Somalia and Sub-Saharan Africa, including Sudan, Mali, Nigeria and Gambia.

With these latest arrivals, the total estimated number of people arriving by sea to Italy in 2015 is now over 45,000, a slight increase from the same period of last year, when arrivals were 41,243.

The Italian navy ship Fenice brought 454 migrants and 17 dead bodies to Augusta on Sunday (31/5). They were rescued in four different operations and survivors told IOM that between 25 and 28 people may have died.

They said that their rubber dinghy began to take on water. The water, mixed with the fuel, created a toxic mixture that burnt their skin. Some people died as a result of the burns, while others jumped overboard to escape and drowned. They included a young pregnant girl from Côte d'Ivoire.

According to testimonies, the situation in Libya is becoming increasingly dangerous and difficult for migrants.

A group of Syrians reported that they reached Libya by flying to Sudan and then crossed the border from Sudan to Libya by road. They said that, once in Libya, they were caught by Libyan militias and held for 22 days.

“These arrivals – and the latest fatalities – how that the situation in large parts of Africa and the Middle East is generating continued mobility, much of it towards Europe. During the month of May alone, Italy registered nearly 20,000 arrivals. This year the Southern Mediterranean countries have registered over 85,000,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean.

“These most recent narratives show how dangerous the journeys across the desert and the sea have become and highlight the risks to migrants posed by the smugglers and traffickers. IOM welcomes the EU decision to reinforce the Triton operation, whose operating range will be extended to 138 nautical miles south of Sicily. This will bring its remit close to that of (the previous Italian) Mare Nostrum operation. We hope that this will be able to reduce the number of deaths in the Mediterranean,” he added.

For more information, please contact IOM Italy. Federico Soda, Tel: +39. , Email: or Flavio Di Giacomo, Tel: , Email: