ROME: The Italian Coast Guard on Thursday rescued 125 migrants on two boats off Isola dei Conigli, a tiny island near Lampedusa, after one of the vessels starting to take on water in choppy waters.
“The bad sea conditions made the operation particularly complex and rescue swimmers were needed,” Admiral Roberto Isidori, chief of the Coast Guard in Sicily, told Arab News.
He said all of the 125 people rescued, which included 49 women and 20 minors, are in good health, “although several of them now are in a state of shock.”
The island reception facility was already under huge stress as it reached maximum capacity with six landings — a total of 143 migrants — in Lampedusa on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
The finance police intercepted the first dinghy with 36 people as 11 of them were Tunisians. A few hours later, the coast guard patrol ships saved another boat where 13 of the 17 people on board were from Tunisia.
At dawn, a boat carrying 55 people was intercepted with two minors and two women. The other three boats saved had a combined 35 people. All the migrants were brought to the Imbriacola district.
“It could have been another intolerable massacre,” Lampedusa Mayor Totò Martello told Arab News. “Only the immediate intervention of the coast guard avoided it, but all of this is definitely intolerable.”
Martello said locals dove into the water to help save migrants who were felling off the rescue boats as they approached the port.
“They did what they felt was the right thing to do,” Martello said.
“Even though we are overwhelmed with this incessant stream of people trying to reach our island, saving lives remains the utmost priority. We are not giving up, but somebody has to help us and the EU must dually take responsibility. We see what happens every day and we feel like crying out in the wilderness. Nobody seems to hear us.”
David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, also called on the EU for assistance in Lampedusa.
“The EU and its member states must step up their efforts to offer a humane welcome to asylum seekers,” Sassoli tweeted. “This is our common responsibility.”