Eleven rescue operations coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard brought some 1,100 African migrants to Italy Wednesday, including one woman who gave birth in a rubber boat.
The migrants had set out from the coast of Libya in 10 rubber boats and one small wooden vessel, but were intercepted and shuttled to Italy before they had gone far into the Strait of Sicily.
The rescue operations involved a coastguard vessel, an Italian Navy ship, the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), Frontex and several different NGOs.
The arrival of migrants into Italy has fallen in recent months, allegedly due to agreements between the Italian government and a former human trafficker as well as with the Libyan Coast Guard that have resulted in patrols to keep migrants from disembarking from North Africa.
According to the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, Italy sent some 10 to 15 million euros to the Libyan government to stop people trafficking.
Last July, the leader of the conservative Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, tweeted that he would bring legal charges against the Italian government for “abetting illegal immigration” by offering a free shuttle service from Libya to the Italian peninsula.
Senator Roberto Calderoli, also of the League, echoed Salvini’s concerns and accused Italy’s leaders of intentionally encouraging illegal immigration.
“Why did vessels from our Coast Guard, Frontex, of EUNAVFOR Med and the usual NGOs conduct operations off the coast of Libya and then take immigrants to Italian ports rather than to Tunisia or Malta?” he asked.
“Simply because we want immigrants to come here,” he said.
The latest wave of migrant arrivals arrived just after news reports suggested that Italy’s deal with Libya to control migrant flows might hurt re-election chances of the ruling Democratic party. While popular with the Italian public, the deal has drawn opposition from the United Nations, human rights groups and Italian leftists.
Some 114,600 migrants have landed on Italian shores so far this year, a figure that is down 32 percent year on year.
* * *