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Immigration: Italy launches Mare Nostrum, 400 more saved

25,000 rescued in 2013; Catania wants to host FRONTEX offices

15 October, 19:17

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, OCTOBER 15 - Italy has launched Operation Mare Nostrum to tackle the immigration emergency. It will be a ''humanitarian operation'' to ''save human lives'', Defense Minister Mario Mauro said, as well as a ''security'' one.

    The operation will include amphibious ships, unmanned drones and helicopters with infrared equipment with which Italy is attempting to deal with the latest waves of refugees and migrants arriving on its coasts and the risk of further tragic incidents like the capsizing of a boat carrying migrants on October 3 near Lampedusa. The minister noted that the ships would be used both to identify the mother ships used by the traffickers and that once spotted, the ships would be escorted to the nearest safe port, in compliance with international law. If there aren't any migrants in need of medical assistance, he said, and if the ship is able to sail, it ''will be taken to the safest and nearest port, not necessarily Italian''. Starting on Tuesday, more ships are operating in the area of the sea concerned than usual, including an amphibious unit tasked with coordinating all the others. Overall there are six navy ships, each with crews of between 80 to 250 men, and long-range helicopters. It was also reported on Tuesday that some 25,000 migrants had been rescued at sea since the beginning of 2013, a period in which 35,085 migrants landed on the Italian coasts. About 73% of the latter (about 24,000 people) had a right to be protected under Italian law, said an interior ministry official at a meeting in Rome promoted by the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR). According to Italian interior ministry data, out of the migrants who landed on Italy's coasts, 9,805 were Syrian nationals, 8,843 were Eritrean, 3,140 Somali, 879 Afghan and 1,058 hailed from Mali. About 21,000 left from Libya while an estimated 8,000 took off from Egypt.

    Meanwhile, another 400 migrants were rescued over the night by patrol boats in the Strait of Sicily in four separate rescue operations. On Tuesday, Catania mayor Enzo Bianco told the Italian government and the EU Commission that the city would be willing to host an ''outpost in the Mediterranean'' of FRONTEX, which is headquartered in Warsaw. Catania has an airport well-connected with all of Europe, Biano noted, and a port that works in tandem with the nearby Augusta and Pozzallo ports and the Sigonella and Comiso airports. In the nearby Mineo there is also a reception center for asylum seekers, and Catania has recently become a destination point for new migratory trends: on August 12 six migrants drowned not far from its beach. A rift has meanwhile been created in the EU Council in the talks underway for guidelines concerning maritime surveillance in FRONTEX operations on the matter of rescue operations and landings. According to an October 10 document, a copy of which ANSA is in possession of, Italy, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain ask that the matter remain in the boundaries of ''international conventions'' and that new elements are not brought in containing ''inflexible aspects that do not add any value''. (ANSAmed).

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