Italy rescues 6,000 migrants over four days, says UNHCR

Women, children among those saved, says human rights agency

(See related) (ANSA) - Geneva, April 11 - The Italy navy has rescued as many as 6,000 migrants attempting a dangerous sea crossing to Europe over the past four days, and should have more assistance from allies, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Friday. It estimates that more than 40 boats crammed with migrants, many fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa, have been rescued as they struggled to reach the coasts of Sicily and Calabria.
    "Large numbers of women and children, including newborns and unaccompanied children, are among (those who have been rescued)" Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR told a media briefing Friday.
    She said the migrants came from Libya, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, and other African and Middle Eastern countries, with many fleeing persecution.
    The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas in the world, but also poses a "dangerous border...for many asylum seekers who seek salvation in Europe," said Fleming.
    She urged the European Union members to work together on solutions to the migrant situation, which is expected to worsen, including improving legal channels for immigrants to Europe.
    Practical refugee aid, including additional shelters, is also needed, she added.
    She spoke soon after the Italian navy rescued 800 North African immigrants off the coast of Libya Thursday night in the latest in a string of pick-ups off rickety boats that have been launched like flotillas during the recent spell of warm weather.
    The migrants were on board seven rust-buckets and large dinghies that were intercepted by four Navy frigates and a Finance Guard motorboat about 70 nautical miles south of the stepping-stone Italian island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Libya than to Sicily.
    The asylum seekers were transferred to the large Italian cruiser San Giorgio which is expected to dock in a Sicilian port later Friday.
    Earlier this week, Italy issued a fresh call for help from the European Union after rescuing more than 4,000 migrants in 48 hours.
    Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in a radio interview Wednesday that "with the fine weather, the next six months are going to be extremely tough".
    He said most migrants now disembarking on Italy's shores are political asylum seekers, and Europe must give Italy a bigger hand in processing and relocating them.
    "Hundreds of thousands are in Libya waiting to get on a boat", Alfano told Sole 24 Ore financial paper's Radio24.
    "It is of the essence that the international community set up refugee camps as well as bilateral control over coasts and departures".
    Every year, tens of thousands of migrants arrive in Italy, which is the first landfall for those trying to reach Europe by boat from North Africa.
    Many die while attempting the hazardous crossing in rickety, overcrowded vessels after being charged exorbitant prices by human traffickers.
    After some 400 people drowned in two migrant-boat disasters within sight of Lampedusa in October 2013, Italy set up a surveillance and rescue operation called Mare Nostrum to prevent further deaths at sea.
    "We are rescuing thousands of migrants with our ships", Alfano continued.
    "We must speed up procedures to expel those who have no right to stay, and to receive those who have a right to asylum".
    Some 15,000 migrants have landed on Italy's coasts since the beginning of the year, Alfano said.
    "Most asylum seekers don't even want to stay in Italy.
    Other countries must take these people in, because that's where they wanted to go in the first place," the minister explained.
    "Europe must understand that we can't take them all in.
    And the EU needs to boost our border defense system," said Alfano.
   

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