Spain saves 73 migrants from 5 boats crossing from Africa

Over 2,000 people were saved on Friday and 3,000 on Saturday, the Italian Coast Guard said.

Asar was rescued along with her mother by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).

The migrants and refugees were rescued by Italian Coast Guard boats, passing merchant ships and more than a dozen NGO charity ships that have filled the vacuum created when Italy's Mare Nostrum search and rescue program ended in 2014 because of budget concerns.

However that figure is well down on the death rate seen previous year when more than 5,000 people perished, according to the International Organization of Migration.

More than 24,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy over the first three months of 2017, many more than the 18,000 people who crossed during the same time period in 2016, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Eleven more migrants of unknown origin were pulled from a small vessel in the Mediterranean Sea after a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation aircraft alerted the Spanish maritime rescue service.

"I urgently appeal to all countries of Europe and the Mediterranean, and to all people of goodwill, to act in solidarity, supporting the humanitarian initiatives now underway to save lives", President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said.

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) boats Prudence and Aquarius rescued some 1,145 people from nine different dinghies in non-stop operations. More than 650 have died or are missing.

Those rescued by the MOAS and MSF ships were transferred to Italian coast guard ships, which had rescued other migrants, to be taken to Italian ports.

The Libyan coastline remains a hotspot for such rescues, as unscrupulous smugglers crowd wooden boats or inflatable dinghies with hundreds of desperate migrants.

Sami said the weekend's work had a frenetic pace, to the point where some humanitarian agents involved in the rescues worked for 40 hours straight.

According to Sami, seven deaths were registered, including a pregnant woman, but the toll could rise.

The voice that is often missing from the discussion is often that of the migrants themselves.

Friday had already seen some 2,000 people rescued while the body of one young man was found, presumed asphyxiated, aboard one vessel bursting with people. When asked if the charity boats made a difference in their decision to make the risky crossing, they had no idea what was meant by the question.

  • Salvatore Jensen