Migrants back on Med route for EU, thousands rescued

Migrants back on Med route for EU, thousands rescued

Migrants back on Med route for EU, thousands rescued More than 6,000 migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast in the past three days while trying to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Italy, as at least five migrants have drowned off in the same area. 

The number of refugees using the Mediterranean route has increased since a Turkish-EU deal in mid-March to seal the heavily used passage from Turkey to Greece.

At least five migrants drowned off the Libyan coast after the heavily overcrowded boat they were sailing on overturned, the Italian navy said May 25, revising downwards an earlier death toll of seven, according to AFP. 

The navy said at least 550 people had been pulled to safety but added that the rescue operation was still underway and that the death toll could rise.

The navy’s Bettica patrol boat spotted “a boat in precarious conditions off the coast of Libya with numerous migrants aboard,” it said in a statement.

“Shortly afterward, the boat overturned due to overcrowding. The Bettica, which had arrived nearby, threw life-rafts and jackets” to the migrants in the water, while another navy ship in the area sent a helicopter and rescue boats.

The latest arrivals bring the number of people rescued and transferred to Italy since the start of the year to nearly 40,000 following the rescue of more than 6,000 since May 23, according to figures collated by the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Italian Coast Guard.

The overwhelming majority of those arriving in Italy so far this year have been from sub-Saharan Africa.

Humanitarian organizations say the sea route between Libya and Italy is now the main route for asylum seekers heading for Europe, after an EU deal on migrants with Turkey dramatically slowed the flow of people reaching Greece. 

Officials fear the numbers trying to make the crossing to Italy will increase as weather conditions continue to improve. 

Most of those trying to reach Italy leave the coast of lawless Libya on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies, heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is close to Tunisia, or toward Sicily.