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Europe Migrant Crisis: Italian State of Emergency to Tackle Migrant Boats

Italian ministers have called a six-month state of emergency in response to a rise in migrant numbers crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

The decision frees up €5m (£4.4m) in funds and coincides with the arrival of 3,000 migrants in three days.

A number of boats have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the coastguard has rescued some 2,000 people since Friday.

Four hundred people on a fishing boat off the coast are yet to be helped.

Migrant arrivals to Italy have risen sharply compared with the same period last year, despite efforts by Italy’s right-wing coalition government to clamp down on irregular migration.

At least four people died and more than 20 others were missing when two migrant boats sank off Tunisia on Saturday. German aid group ResQship said it rescued 22 people from the water and took them to Lampedusa.

Tunisia has become the biggest point of departure for migrant boats in recent months and Saturday’s disaster was only the latest in a series of incidents off the coast. Lampedusa is 185km (115 miles) from the Tunisian port of Sfax.

Sea and Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci spoke of a 300% increase in migrant flows and said it was an “absolute emergency” that had put Italy’s infrastructure at risk. “We are talking about a phenomenon never seen in the past. The islands alone cannot deal with this state of emergency,”

The state of emergency would not solve the problem, the minister stressed. It required a responsible intervention by the European Union.

Besides extra funding, it is unclear how the Italian measure will tackle rising numbers in the Mediterranean, but reports say officials will be able to speed up reception procedures and repatriation of those not allowed to remain in Italy.

The Italian coastguard has been escorting two boats in the Ionian Sea off Sicily.

One of the boats carrying 400 people is believed to have set out from Tobruk in Libya and the coastguard said difficult sea conditions were affecting the rescue.

It was last located by an unofficial hotline for migrants called Alarm Phone in the Ionian Sea east of Sicily on Tuesday. “[People on board] report several medical emergencies, water filling the vessel and no fuel left,” the hotline said, describing the situation as dramatic.

A second boat also under coastguard escort is carrying around 800 people. It is unclear where the boat set out from and the Italian coastguard said it was overcrowded.

An urgent alarm was first raised with the authorities of Italy, Greece and Malta on Sunday when the boat was found adrift in Maltese waters, Alarm Phone said.

German non-governmental organisation Sea-Watch International said two merchant vessels near the boat had been ordered not to help with rescue efforts by Malta while the boat was in Maltese waters. Instead, one of the ships had been allowed to supply it with fuel and water.

The Armed Forces of Malta told The Malta Independent that “no rescue was requested by the people on board”.

According to monitoring group IOM Missing Migrants Project, more than 26,000 people have died or gone missing at sea in the Central Mediterranean since 2014.

Source : BBC

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