Europe

Lampedusa migrant crisis: Sicily declares emergency

  • 15 October 2013
  • From the section Europe
Officials pay their respect in front of the coffins of refugees who died trying to get to Lampedusa
Image caption The recent loss of life has led to further calls for EU action

The governor of Sicily has declared a state of emergency because of the large numbers of migrants it is having to deal with.

The order will release funds for aid workers helping the now daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants from Africa and Syria.

Italian officials say 370 migrants were rescued from three boats in the waters between Libya and Sicily on Tuesday.

The migrants were all being transferred to the island of Lampedusa.

Italy has a nationwide civil protection service and the state of emergency means that they will be able to carry out their work of looking after the new arrivals more efficiently, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

Lampedusa is swamped with new arrivals, so the efficient transfer of migrants to temporary accommodation in Sicily, which has better facilities to deal with the migrant emergency, has become essential, our correspondent adds.

The latest rescues come a day after Italy announced increased patrols following the deaths of hundreds of migrants sailing in overcrowded boats.

The migrants were all being transferred to Lampedusa, the navy said.

On Friday, at least 33 people died when their boat capsized between Malta and Lampedusa.

Image caption Italian officials released footage of Tuesday's rescue operations
Image caption Three ships were intercepted in the waters near Sicily
Image caption Also on Tuesday, bodies of refugees killed in recent weeks were transferred to Sicily
Image caption Almost 400 migrants have died in recent weeks trying to reach Italian territory

A week earlier, more than 350 migrants died in another shipwreck off the island, one of the deadliest such incidents in recent years.

Italy has previously called for EU help in dealing with the thousands of desperate migrants who wash up on its beaches every year.

Many are families fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East who hope for a better life in Europe.

'Huge effort'

The recent loss of life has led to further calls for EU action.

On Monday, Italian Defence Minister Mario Mauro said the country intended to triple its presence in the southern Mediterranean.

"We need strong action to stop these shipwrecks," he told Italian newspaper Avvenire.

In addition to coastguard and border police vessels, the Italian navy currently has three ships supported by four helicopters patrolling the area. It can also call on two surveillance aircraft with night-vision capabilities.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Lampedusa told the BBC on Monday that Italy was also planning to increase its capacity for receiving migrants from 8,000 to 16,000.

"[Migrants] should be transferred to the mainland, to the proper reception system. It's a huge effort [Italy] is making... the reception capability will be raised starting from next January," Maurizio Molina said.

Also on Tuesday, the Italian interior ministry said 35,085 migrants had arrived on Italy's coasts this year, with about 24,000, or 73%, meeting the legal criteria for asylum.

Of the migrants, 9,805 were Syrians, 8,843 Eritreans, 3,140 Somalis, 1,058 Malians and 879 Afghans. Roughly 21,000 departed from Libya and 8,000 from Egypt, according to an official from the ministry.