Isla Binnie, Reuters, June 30, 2014
As many as 30 corpses were found on a boat packed with migrants off the coast of Sicily, Italy’s navy said on Monday after rescuing thousands of people trying to cross from North Africa over the weekend.
The dead are thought to have either suffocated on the overcrowded fishing vessel or drowned, the navy said.
The discovery on Sunday underlined the scale of the crisis in the southern Mediterranean, where hundreds have died in the past year making the journey to Europe, and tens of thousands more have been plucked from rickety boats.
More than 5,000 people were rescued this weekend, adding to the 50,000 migrants who have reached Italy from North Africa so far this year, many fleeing war and forced conscription as well as poverty and a lack of opportunity.
Italy has called on its European Union partners to do more to help manage the near daily arrivals, a phenomenon that has boosted voter support for the anti-immigration Northern League party in a country struggling to emerge from recession.
An Italian ship from the navy’s migrant rescue mission Mare Nostrum, or “Our Sea”, was due to arrive at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Tuesday towing the fishing boat and carrying 566 survivors.
The navy said thousands of others rescued this weekend would arrive in other ports on Monday and Tuesday.
European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the commission was making available to Italy 4 million euros ($5.5 million) of emergency funding and was looking at ways to contribute more.
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, whose party says Mare Nostrum is a burden on taxpayers and encourages immigration, attacked Renzi and Interior Minister Angelino .
“Thirty more deaths on the consciences of those who defend ‘Their Sea’. Stop the departures, help them at home, now! Renzi and Alfano have blood on their shirts, don’t they?” he said on Facebook.
Mare Nostrum is Europe’s biggest search and rescue mission and costs around 9 million euros a month. ($1 = 0.7331 Euros)