Italy estimates 680K migrants in Libya want to cross Mediterranean Sea for Europe

Streaming HUBMarch 13, 2023

Intelligence reports indicate that some 700,000 migrants are waiting in Libya for an opportunity to cross the sea to Italy, a lawmaker from Premier Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party said on Sunday, but a UN migration official did not find the numbers credible.

Lower parliamentary house whip Tommaso Fotti of the Brothers of Italy party told television channel TGcom24 that Italian secret services estimate that there are 685,000 migrants in Libya, many in detention camps, eager to cross the central Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats. Were. ,

Separately, 30 migrants were missing and 17 were rescued about 100 nautical miles off the Libyan coast after their boat capsized while a commercial vessel was trying to board them, the Italian Coast Guard said on Sunday night. was trying

3 boats off Italy coast, 1,300 migrants ‘at risk’, officials say

Emphasizing that the sinking occurred outside Italy’s search and rescue area, the coast guard said several other merchant ships were helping to search for the boat’s missing passengers.

Humanitarian group alarm phones alerted Italy’s national coordination center and authorities in Libya and Malta on Saturday that the 47 people on the boat needed assistance.

Libyan authorities, citing a “lack of availability of naval assets”, contacted the Maritime Assistance Coordination Center in Rome, which sent a satellite message about the emergency to all ships in the area, according to a statement by the Italian Coast Guard. Sent.

It said the commercial motorboat carrying 17 survivors was on its way to Italy but would first stop in Malta to disembark two people in urgent need of medical care. A spokesman for the Libyan coast guard did not respond to a request for comment.

Meloni is hoping that an EU meeting later this month will generate concrete solidarity from fellow leaders of EU countries on managing large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, which along with Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Spain -With countries on the rim of the Mediterranean come. Italy.

Police check a fishing boat carrying around 500 migrants in the southern Italian port of Crotone on March 11, 2023.

Police check a fishing boat carrying around 500 migrants in the southern Italian port of Crotone on March 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Valeria Ferraro)

“Europe cannot look the other way,” Foti said.

While the intelligence services’ assessment drew alarming headlines in Italy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration cautioned that the figure appears to be misleading at the high end of the estimated number of migrants in Libya who are actually seeking to leave for Europe. Were staying ,

“This number appears to be an estimate, which we also give, of the total presence in Libya,” Flavio Di Giacomo told The Associated Press in Rome.

But of that number, “only a minimal part wants to leave and only a minimal part succeeds in leaving” for Europe, Di Giacomo said. For example, many migrants in Libya come from Niger and Chad, two African countries bordering Libya’s south, and eventually return to their countries, he said.

Di Giacomo said the Italian intelligence service’s guess “is the last of a long series of alarms that we’ve seen over the last 10, 12 years, which turned out to be wrong.” “That number doesn’t look credible at all.”

Italy stadium full of migrants’ coffins after shipwreck, dozens dead

In 2022, around 105,000 migrants will reach Italy by sea.

Since the beginning of this year as of 10 March, some 17,600 have arrived, including a few thousand who have landed at Italian ports over the past several days. This is nearly triple the number for the same time period in the past two years, although fewer trips may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italian state TV said on Sunday that three more bodies were found from a shipwreck on February 26 off the coast of the Italian peninsula, raising the death toll from that disaster to 79. A wooden boat that had sailed from Turkey ran into a sandbank in rough seas on a beach in Calabria, the toe of the Italian peninsula.

There were 80 survivors, and an undetermined number of people were missing and presumed dead.

Meloni’s government has denied criticism that the Coast Guard should have been sent out to rescue the boat’s passengers when the ship was first spotted off shore.

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For years, Italy has been pushing Libya, with limited success, to prevent people-smugglers from unseaworthy fishing boats and rubber boats headed for Italian shores. The Italian governments have trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard.

But smugglers continue to operate behind smuggling rings between Libya’s political and militant factions.

The International Organization for Migration and humanitarian groups say passengers whose ships are turned back by the Libyan coast guard are often returned to detention camps, where they are at risk of abuse, including torture, when Until their families do not raise enough money for the migrants. again by sea.

Meloni’s government has made it difficult for the humanitarian organizations that operate rescue boats to carry out the many rescue operations in Libyan waters, by adopting rules that force the ships to disembark migrants in northern Italian ports. thereby delaying their return to sea.

Although many migrants do indeed leave Libya on smugglers’ boats, it is “a worrying humanitarian flow as people die at sea,” said IOM spokesman Di Giacomo.

The UN migration agency estimates that some 300 people have died or are missing this year and are believed to have died trying to cross the dangerous central Mediterranean route.

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