Italy: more migrants rescued, League demands mission's end

Mare Nostrum policies an invasion', too expensive, says Salvini

21 April, 17:45

    (by Sandra Cordon).

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, APRIL 21 - More than 320 migrants were rescued by Italian Navy vessels Monday from the seas south of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, raising the total number saved over the Easter long weekend to more than 1,100 people.

    The latest arrivals, including about 70 women and children, were spotted by a Navy helicopter patrolling the Channel of Sicily and were taken to the port of Augusta in the province of Siracusa, located on the eastern coast of Sicily.

    Earlier on the weekend, more than 800 migrants, many fleeing north Africa, were rescued from two boats south of Lampedusa. The rescues came as Northern League secretary Matteo Salvini said Italy must suspend such operations because they are too expensive and represent an "invasion" of Italian shores. In an interview with ANSA Monday, Salvini said his party will present a proposal to the Lower House and the Senate to suspend the Mare Nostrum sea operation that Salvini says costs about 300,000 euros daily. "That will end the financing of (human) smugglers and the invasion of our shores," said Salvini, who added that he is planning an election campaign visit to Sicily.

    All of the weekend rescue efforts were made via the Mare Nostrum surveillance and rescue program established after the deaths of some 400 people in two migrant-boat disasters near Lampedusa in October 2013.

    Last week, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that to date this year, more than 20,500 migrants have already landed on Italy's coasts - an enormous increase over the 2,500 reported during the same period in 2013.

    Speaking before a committee on the country's borders, Alfano stressed that the number of incoming migrants was on pace "to reach the record levels of 2011, when more than 62,000 people entered". Salvini, whose party has taken strong stances against immigration, called last month on allies across Europe to join the League in fighting "mass immigration" in the lead-up to May's European Parliament elections.

    Immigration has been a hot-button topic in Italy as thousands of migrants arrive on the country's southern shores, fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, often by rickety sea vessels.

    Many others die attempting the crossing in often unstable vessels.

    Boat arrivals in Italy more than tripled last year from the previous year, fuelled by the conflict in Syria and strife in the Horn of Africa.

    In response to the rising levels of dangerous migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Italy must have more financial help.

    The UNHCR has said that the Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas in the world, and urged European Union members to work together on solutions to the migrant situation, which is expected to worsen. Meanwhile on Monday, authorities said that more than 300 migrants fled from an emergency holding centre for migrants near Ragusa which, like other centres on Sicily, have been overcrowded by a steady stream of illegal arrivals to Europe by sea. (ANSAmed).

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