Italian coastguard rescues 550 migrants in stormy seas

The Italian coastguard has safely brought to shore more than 550 migrants, many of them young men or boys from Egypt, from rough seas off the southern mainland.

ne rescue began on Saturday night and ended early on Sunday when 303 migrants, soaked and shivering, stepped on to the port of Roccella Jonica in the Calabria region. They had been rescued from a storm-battered fishing boat.

Later on Sunday, the coastguard ferried a further 250 migrants to the same port after an Italian customs police boat spotted another fishing vessel in difficulty off Calabria.

While most migrants seeking to reach Italy in the central Mediterranean depart from Libya or Tunisia, authorities say an increasing number of traffickers’ boats aiming for European shores are plying a route that begins in Turkey and ends at the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.

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The migrants were given space blankets to keep them warm on arrival in Roccella Jonica (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Those rescued from traffickers’ unseaworthy rubber dinghies and wooden boats that depart from North Africa are usually taken to Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island, or to ports in Sicily.

But those from Turkey are generally taken to Calabria or Puglia in the “heel” of the Italian mainland.

The charity Resqship tweeted on Sunday that after it alerted authorities about an overcrowded wooden boat with 100 migrants on board, they were evacuated to safety.

In Roccella Jonica, Red Cross volunteers handed the migrants plastic clogs, blankets, food and protective face masks as part of Covid-19 precautions.

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Many of the migrants arrived barefoot (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Authorities recently set up a tent structure to serve as temporary housing but it is only supposed to hold up to 120 people.

As of November 12, 57,833 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea so far 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 thwart charity boats from disembarking people they rescued at sea, just under 10,000 arrived.

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