UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has praised the rescue of some 1,500 people by the Italian Coastguard in coordination with Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, from boats struggling in rough weather on the Mediterranean over the past three days.
In the wake of at least one known shipwreck of an over-crowded and flimsy vessel off the coast of Libya, at least eight bodies were recovered by European authorities. According to the Italian Coast Guard, a French ship operating under the Frontex operation sighted and rescued four people in high seas on Saturday 30–40 miles (48–64 kilometres) from Libyan shores.
Early reports from survivors say at least 100 people were on board a dinghy that collapsed some 30-40 miles from the Libyan coast, between Tripoli and Misurata. Last night (14 January), the Italian Coastguard rescued another 34 people close to oil platforms some 55 miles (88 kilometres) from the Libyan coast.
Italian authorities also report that three survivors from another rescue operation have since died from hypothermia, while another two had died on board a dinghy from suffocation.
Survivors and victims from rescue efforts in recent days have already been disembarked on Saturday in Lampedusa and on Sunday in the port city of Messina, on the north east coast of Sicily. UNHCR staff assisted during the operations and during the mourning of the victims.
“In what is already a tragic start to 2017 on the Mediterranean Sea, I am really heartened to see the first priority of saving lives in action through the rescue efforts of the Italian Coastguard and Frontex who have braved such extreme weather to rescue so many people,” said Vincent Cochetel.
“The survivors – whether refugees or migrants - have gone through unimaginable physical and psychological suffering,” said Cochetel, adding that UNHCR will work closely with authorities to refer them to health services.
Last year was the deadliest year on record on the Mediterranean Sea with more than 5,000 deaths recorded. This compares to the 3771 recorded in 2015.
This deadly start to 2017 highlights the urgent need for States to increase pathways for admission of refugees, such as resettlement, private sponsorship, and family reunification, so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of people smugglers.
In Rome, Carlotta Sami, firstname.lastname@example.org, +39 335 679 4746
In Geneva, Ariane Rummery, email@example.com, +41 79 200 7617
In Sicily, Marco Rotunno, firstname.lastname@example.org, + 39 334 680 7047