Nearly 6,000 stranded refugees have been picked up across the Mediterranean Sea by naval vessels and rescue teams from a number of European countries, including Italy, Germany and Britain, in a 48-hour span.
Announcing the rescue operations on Sunday, Italian coast guard authorities further stated that European rescue teams carried out a total of 30 operations within the time period, including 15 on Sunday that pulled to safety 2,371 migrants. It followed the rescue of 3,480 more people earlier on Saturday.
This is while a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Federico Fossi, told an Italian news broadcaster that there had been 10 distress calls from smugglers’ boats just within a few hours on Sunday.
Most were picked up some 80 kilometers off the Libyan coast in rescue bids that involved over a dozen naval vessels. The stranded migrants had reportedly signaled their distress using satellite mobile phones.
Meanwhile, the German military reported that its forces destroyed the smuggler boats after pulling to safety more than 1,400 people on board the troubled vessels, arguing that they were obstructing the shipping lanes.
Since the beginning of the current year, at least 50,000 migrants have arrived in Italy while over 1,800 have died in their attempts to make the risky sea journey to European shores.
The development comes as three of Italy’s eight northern regions declared their refusal on Sunday to accept more refugees after thousands of rescued migrants arrived on Italian soil.
Italy’s regions of Lombardy, Liguria, and Veneto vowed to defy the central government by refusing to allow in new migrants.
In response to an international outcry over the plight of African migrants, ministers of the European Union (EU) have been meeting to discuss a solution to the crisis, considering military action to eradicate human trafficking in the Mediterranean.
On June 4, the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held talks with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dayri, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over the establishment of a joint naval force to counter efforts to smuggle people into Europe.