Hundreds of migrants have already died in 2023 crossing Mediterranean to Europe: UN – National |

More than 400 migrants and refugees drowned in early 2023 while attempting to cross the central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe, the most fatalities in the past six years over a three-month period, a United Nations agency said on Wednesday.

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Migrants meet with hostility, no matter which side of the Atlantic they land on

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) documented 441 migrant deaths between January and March on the world’s deadliest migration route, in what it said was likely an undercount. Around half of those deaths were linked to delays in state-led rescue efforts and, in one case, the absence of any rescue mission, it said.

“The persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino. “With more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear that these deaths have been normalized. States must respond.”

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Thousands of mostly African migrants embark on the dangerous journey from the shores of Libya and Egypt, often in small, inflatable boats, in search of a better life in Europe.

Click to play video: 'Sea-Watch rescues nearly 500 migrants adrift in Mediterranean Sea'

Sea-Watch rescues nearly 500 migrants adrift in Mediterranean Sea

This “central” route is distinct from the Western crossing from Morocco to Spain.

Frequently, the ships sink, as in the case of a deadly shipwreck off the southern Italian region of Calabria in late February that killed at least 72 migrants.

Italy announces state of emergency

Italy’s cabinet on Tuesday announced a state of emergency on immigration following a “sharp rise” in flows across the Mediterranean, in a move aimed at better management of migrant arrivals and repatriation facilities.

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The state of emergency will be backed by initial funding of 5 million euros ($5.45 million), the ministry for sea and civil protection said, and will last for six months.

“Let it be clear, we are not solving the problem, the solution can only depend on responsible intervention by the European Union,” said Nello Musumeci, the civil protection minister.

The measure will allow Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government to more quickly repatriate those not allowed to stay in Italy, boosting identification and expulsion orders, a government source said.

The government, in office since October, has pledged to curb mass immigration but some 31,300 migrants have arrived in Italy so far in 2023, interior ministry data shows, up from around 7,900 in the same period last year.

Click to play video: 'Video shows dramatic rescue in Mediterranean after migrant boat capsizes'

Video shows dramatic rescue in Mediterranean after migrant boat capsizes

On Monday, the coastguard led rescue operations involving two boats carrying a total of 1,200 people, with charity groups also joining efforts to save lives at sea.

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Following a deadly shipwreck off the southern Italian region of Calabria in late February, Meloni urged the European Union to do more to halt illegal immigration, as she toughened jail terms for human smugglers.

“It is right that the interior ministry and the institutions should have special powers to tackle and manage a complex phenomenon which is putting a strain on some southern regions,” Calabria’s governor Roberto Occhiuto said in a statement.
— Reporting by Emma Farge and Angelo Amante; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Gavin Jones and Deepa Babington

&copy 2023 Thomson Reuters

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