Italy: More than 2,000 migrants rescued and disembarked since Thursday

Rome: More than 2,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy over the last few days. Some were brought in by the Italian coast guard and others disembarked from the private rescue ship, Mare Jonio.

A total of 2,441 migrants arrived by small boat in Italy since last Thursday (March 21). That’s according to Italian government data last updated on March 26. 977 migrants arrived on Saturday by small boat.

That followed 513 arrivals on Thursday and 432 arrivals on Friday. The rescues and arrivals continued to Monday with 380 arriving on Sunday and 139 on Monday.

On Monday (March 25) 113 people disembarked from the private rescue ship Mare Jonio, operated by the non-governmental organization Mediterranea Saving Humans.

The migrants had been picked up during two operations in the central Mediterrranean between Saturday (March 23) and Sunday (March 24). They disembarked in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.

The crew of the Mare Jonio assisted the Italian coast guard in an operation involving the rescue of 179 people in total, of whom 113 were brought to Italy on board the Mare Jonio.

According to a press release from Mediterranea Saving Humans, the “first three days of mission number 15 were a rapid succession of events and operations.”
The organization said after completing the mission that it was proof that civil rescue ships were needed to help with rescue operations in that part of the Mediterranean.

They added that the good weather and calm seas in recent days had offered “a window for departures that saw tens of boats leave from the coasts of Libya and Tunisia with women, men and children on board.”
The Mare Jonio set off from the Sicilian port of Trapani on Friday (March 22).

It had been hit with an administrative order in the autumn of 2023, and had been being held in port since then.

On Saturday, March 23, the ship’s crew were heading south on board the Mare Jonio and volunteered to take part in the search for a 15-month-old child who had been reported missing from a migrant boat in the central Mediterranean.

The Mare Jonio ship operated by the NGO Mediterranean Saving Humans arrived in Pozzallo and disembarked 113 people on Monday night | Photo by Salvatore Cavalli / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
The Mare Jonio ship operated by the NGO Mediterranean Saving Humans arrived in Pozzallo and disembarked 113 people on Monday night | Photo by Salvatore Cavalli / SOPA Images/Sipa USA
But later on Saturday, the crew received an alert from the Frontex surveillance plane Eagle 1, which indicated a boat in difficulties about 43 nautical miles off Lampedusa. The boat at the time was, according to Mediterranea Saving Humans, “technically in the Maltese Search and Rescue zone.”
The Mare Jonio headed towards the location and arrived there alongside the German private rescue ship, Mare Go. On arrival, the crews of the two ships found an “iron boat, just seven meters long, incredibly crowded and with a broken down motor.”
The boat was so low in the water that it was “dangerous,” states the press release, saying that the boat was just a few centimeters above the water line. The crews of the rescue ship, along with the Italian coast guard began coordinating a rescue operation for the people on the boat.

The rescue team from the Mare Jonio distributed life jackets and worked alongside the coast guard to help transfer the migrants to safety. The 59 people on board were subsequently taken by the Italian coast guard and disembarked on Lampedusa.

Seven women were among those on board, states the press release, two of whom reportedly were pregnant.

Then on Saturday afternoon, the Mare Jonio received another alert, this time from the Seabird 2 reconnaissance plane, operated by the non-governmental organization Sea-Watch.

This time, the crew of the Mare Jonio found 55 people on board, who were transferred safely to the Mare Jonio on Saturday evening. Several unaccompanied minors were on board this small boat, stated the press release.

Those on board this ship told the rescue crew that they had been at sea for three days and that they had departed from Libya. There were several cases of hypothermia among those rescued, and one of the young boys had had his arm amputated “recently” states Mediterranea Saving Humans, because the “wound was fresh and he had evidence of scars on his body which indicated he had been submitted to violence in Libya.”
The Italian authorities told the crew that they could disembark the group in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. The captain of the Mare Jonio began the 20-hour voyage towards Pozzallo, but along the way, the organization Alarm Phone, which monitors migrant crossings towards Europe, issued yet another alert.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Alarm Phone said that “more than 50 people had called the hotline and said they were in danger.” They included a woman and children, all of whom reportedly had run out of food and water.

After consulting with the Italian coordination authorities in Rome, the Mare Jonio changed course and headed towards this location.

During the night, they carried out the rescue of 58 people, including four women and 12 minors, including a child under 12, a little boy of about two and two little girls aged about three and just 20 days.

“This is absolutely the youngest person the crew of the Mare Jonio has ever rescued,” the press release confirmed.

The majority of those on board this boat came originally from Syria, the press release explained. Some were traveling alone, and some were with a family group. Many of those on board had suffered minor ailments and dehydration. Some were suffering from sea-sickness which continued on board the Mare Jonio, leading to problems with rehydration, stated the crew.

Some of them reportedly had to be rigged up to a drip in order to make sure they returned to the correct levels of hydration.

Disembarkation took place “at 00.45 on Monday (March 25),” concluded the press statement. A local Sicilian radio and video news site, TRMWeb Sicilia, referred to the rate of arrivals over the last few days as “non-stop.”
It added in a report posted to the web this week that the Mare Jonio reportedly had to be “disinfested after several cases of scabies were found among those rescued.”
The migrants on board the Mare Jonio were not the only ones who arrived in the last few days on Sicily and Lampedusa.

The regional newspaper La Sicilia reported on March 24 that “almost 1,000 [945] had arrived on Lampedusa in 24 hours […] aboard 21 different small boats” The newspaper said that the hotspot which normally has capacity for around 400 people “was once again full.”
According to La Sicilia, the smallest boat had 17 people on board and the largest vessel was carrying 77. Migrants on board, who had left from both Libya and Tunisia, were reported to come originally from Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

La Sicilia reported that on Saturday night, the Lampedusa hotspot contained 1,335 people. After a transfer on Sunday of 381, the hotspot still had 1,031 people.

Over 600 people were still expected to be transferred later on Sunday, reported La Sicilia.

In the last five days, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that at least 523 people were present at the so-called “hotspot” on the island of Lampedusa.

On March 21, ANSA reported that 196 migrants were brought to Lampedusa from several small boats. The migrants who arrived were reported to be variously from Syria, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They had all set off from Libya a few days previously.

A Sicilian doctor gets off the ship with a 20-day-old baby girl, followed by her mother; According to the Mare Jonio crew, that was the youngest person they had rescued yet | Photo: Salvatore Cavalli / SOPA images / Sipa USA
A Sicilian doctor gets off the ship with a 20-day-old baby girl, followed by her mother; According to the Mare Jonio crew, that was the youngest person they had rescued yet | Photo: Salvatore Cavalli / SOPA images / Sipa USA
On Friday, ANSA reported that another two boats arrived after leaving the coast of Tunisia. On board the two small boats, ANSA reported, there were 24 women and three minors present, mostly coming from Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea.

According to Italian government data, last updated on the morning of March 26, 11,320 people have arrived in Italy by small boat since the beginning of the year.

That is fewer than half the numbers that arrived in the same time period in 2023 — but still almost double those that arrived in that time period in 2022.

Nationals from Bangladesh make up the biggest national group to arrive so far this year.