The Italian Coast Guard brought more than 550 migrants, including many young men or boys from Egypt, safely ashore from storm-lashed waters off the southern “toe” of mainland Italy on Sunday as human traffickers increasingly use a new route.
A rescue operation began Saturday evening and ended early Sunday when the 303 migrants entered the port of Roccella Jonica in the Calabria region, drenched and trembling.
Later on Sunday after an Italian customs police boat found another fishing vessel in trouble off Calabria, coastguard crews brought 250 migrants to the same port, Associated Press journalists in Roccella Jonica reported.
While most migrants who want to reach Italy in the central Mediterranean are leaving Libya or Tunisia, according to the authorities more and more tug boats are traveling on a route that starts in Turkey and ends at the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.
Those rescued from unseaworthy rubber dinghies and wooden boats used by human traffickers from North Africa are usually brought to Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island, or to ports in Sicily. Those who sail from Turkey are usually brought to Calabria or Apulia in the “heel” of mainland Italy.
Charity Resqship tweeted Sunday that the Italian coastal ship had brought them to safety after alerting authorities about an overcrowded wooden boat carrying 100 migrants south of Lampedusa.
In Roccella Jonica, Red Cross volunteers handed over plastic shoes, blankets, food and face masks to migrants early Sunday as part of COVID-19 precautions. Authorities recently put up a tent structure to serve as temporary shelter, but only for up to 120 people, so some of the migrants have been driven to other shelters.
As of November 12th, 57,833 migrants had arrived in Italy by sea this year.
In 2020, more than 31,000 arrived. In 2019, when anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini used his post as interior minister to try to prevent charity boats from disembarking people they rescued at sea, nearly 10,000 arrived.