ROME (Associated Press) – Intelligence reports indicate that there are nearly 700,000 migrants in Libya waiting for the opportunity to set off by sea towards Italy, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party said Sunday, but a UN migration official called the figure unreliable.
Tommaso Fotti, the lower parliamentary whip of the Brotherhood of Italy party, told Tgcom24 TV that Italian intelligence services have estimated that 685,000 migrants in Libya, many in concentration camps, are eager to sail across the central Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats..
Separately, 30 migrants are missing and 17 were rescued 100 nautical miles (180 kilometers) off the Libyan coast after their boat capsized while a merchant ship was trying to take them aboard, the Italian Coast Guard reported Sunday night.
The coast guard stressed that the capsizing occurred outside Italy’s area of responsibility for search and rescue, and said several other commercial vessels were helping to search for the boat’s missing occupants.
The humanitarian group Alarm Phone indicated to the Italian National Coordination Center and to the Libyan and Maltese authorities on Saturday that the boat with 47 people on board needed help.
The Libyan authorities, under the pretext of a “lack of maritime assets,” contacted the Maritime Aid Coordination Center in Rome, which sent a satellite message about an emergency to all ships in the area, according to a statement from the Italian Coast Guard.
It added that the merchant boat, which carried 17 survivors, was heading to Italy, but would first stop in Malta to disembark two people in urgent need of medical care. A Libyan coast guard spokesman did not respond to a request for comment
Meloni hopes for the European Union The meeting later this month resulted in tangible solidarity from fellow EU leaders in managing the large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers coming to countries on the edge of the Mediterranean, including Greece.Cyprus, Malta and Spain as well as Italy.
“Europe cannot look the other way,” Foti said.
While the intelligence services’ assessment drew headlines in Italy, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration warned that the figure appeared to confuse the estimated maximum number of migrants in Libya with those actually seeking to head from there to Europe. .
“It seems that this number is an estimate, which we also give, of the total presence in Libya,” Flavio Di Giacomo told the Associated Press in Rome.
Of this number, Di Giacomo said, “only a small part want to leave and only a small part succeed in leaving” for Europe. For example, many migrants in Libya come from Niger and Chad, two African countries on Libya’s southern border, and eventually return home, he said.
Di Giacomo said the Italian intelligence service’s estimate “is the latest in a long line of alarms we’ve seen in the last 10 or 12 years, which turned out to be false.” This number does not appear to be entirely reliable.
Around 105,000 migrants will arrive in Italy by sea in 2022.
From the beginning of this year until March 10, about 17,600 people have arrived, including a few thousand who have disembarked in Italian ports in the past several days. That’s about three times the number for the same time period in each of the two previous years, although the COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in fewer trips..
On Sunday, three more bodies were recovered from a shipwreck on February 26 off the coast of the Italian peninsulaItalian state television said the known death toll in that disaster was 79 migrants. A wooden boat that sailed from Turkey hit the sandbank in rough seas off a beach in Calabria, on the tip of the Italian peninsula.
There were 80 survivors, and an unspecified number of people are believed missing and presumed dead.
Meloni’s government rejected the criticism that the Coast Guard should have been sent to rescue the boat’s occupants when the ship was first sighted off the coast.
For years, Italy has tried, with limited success, to get Libya to stop launching the unseaworthy fishing boats and rubber boats of people smugglers. towards the Italian shores. The Italian governments trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard.
But the smugglers behind the smuggling gangs continue to operate in central Libya, in the midst of a war between the political and extremist factions.
The International Organization for Migration and humanitarian groups say passengers whose ship has been turned back by the Libyan coast guard are returning to detention camps, where they are at risk of abuse.including torture, until their families raise enough money for the migrants to return by sea.
Meloni’s government has made it difficult for humanitarian organizations that operate rescue boats to carry out the many rescues in the waters off Libya, adopting rules that force ships to disembark migrants in northern Italian ports, delaying their return to sea.
However, many of the migrants who set out from Libya are already on smugglers’ boats, “It’s a worrying humanitarian influx because people are dying at sea.”said the spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, Di Giacomo.
The United Nations migration agency estimates that around 300 people have died this year, or are missing and presumed dead, after trying to cross the perilous Central Mediterranean route.
Follow AP coverage of global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
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