World

Migrants to Europe: Italy rescues thousands over weekend

In a three-day period ended Sunday, 6,771 survivors were rescued in the seas north of Libya from overcrowded rubber dinghies and unseaworthy fishing boats sent out by smuggling rings, the Italian Coast Guard reported Monday.

2 bodies were recovered by Italian tugboats and 1 baby was born on a navy vessel

Calm seas and mild temperatures fuelled the spike in human trafficking — just as it did last month when nearly 6,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean during a few days of good weather. (Italian navy/Associated Press)

Italian rescue ships brought migrants by the thousands to the country's southern ports, including a baby born aboard a navy vessel, as crowded shelters in Sicily and on the mainland struggled Monday to find room for them.

Some politicians based in northern Italy, meanwhile, vowed that their regions wouldn't take in any of the Mediterranean Sea migrants.

In a three-day period ended Sunday, 6,771 survivors were rescued in the seas north of Libya from overcrowded rubber dinghies and unseaworthy fishing boats sent out by smuggling rings, the Italian Coast Guard reported Monday. Ten bodies were found Sunday on boats or in the sea.

Calm seas and mild temperatures fuelled the spike in human trafficking — just like it did last month when nearly 6,000 migrants were rescued during a few days of good weather. Italy has not yet released the total number of migrant arrivals in April, but the relentless stream this year is on track to surpass the 170,000 rescued at sea by Italy in 2014.

Priority was given to keeping migrant families together and 14 migrant babies were given medical checkups at local hospitals after the rescue north of Libya. (Adriana Sapone/Associated Press)

Italy's navy said a woman, in labour when rescued Sunday, gave birth to a girl aboard one of its patrol ships. Mother and daughter were fine and the patrol boat, carrying 654 migrants who were saved in four different rescue operations, headed to port.

Other rescuers had grim tasks. An Italian tugboat, among several commercial vessels saving migrants on Sunday, also recovered two corpses, the navy said.

Authorities struggle to house migrants

The surge of arrivals set Italian port mayors and charity organizations scrambling to find beds for the migrants. Many will seek asylum because of war or persecution, and hope to reach relatives in northern Europe. But until their applications are processed, which could take months or longer, asylum seekers are supposed to stay in Italy.

In Reggio Calabria, where 780 migrants disembarked in the "toe" of the Italian peninsula, priority was being given to keeping migrant families together, many of them in a gym, and 14 migrant babies were being given medical checkups at local hospitals. Around 540 other Reggio Calabria migrants were being taken to the Tuscany or Emilia Romagna regions in the north.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano visited the Italian island of Sicily on Monday, conferring with local authorities wrestling with how to shelter the growing number of migrants.

Hundreds of migrants drowned in April

The Milan-based governor of Lombardy, meanwhile, vowed not to take in any more migrants.

"In a few days, I will be in Rome. And I'll repeat to the interior minister that Lombardy has already done its part," Gov. Roberto Maroni was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying. "If there is any funding available, it should be spent on our citizens and not for clandestine" migrants.

An estimated 800 migrants drowned last month when their boat capsized off Libya with hundreds of them locked in the hold by smugglers. After that, the European Union held an emergency summit and agreed to contribute more boats and patrol aircraft to Mediterranean rescue efforts.

Charities in Italy have pitched in to give the migrants food, beds and a safe place to socialize.

"We have to realize that emigration is a phenomenon Italy can't face alone," said Rev. Antonio Pangallo, who runs the Caritas charity in Reggio Calabria. "My hope is that they [politicians] don't get interested in the problem only when we witness again — I hope not — another genocide in Mediterranean waters. Italy needs help."

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