Italy has announced that it is increasing naval and air patrols in the southern Mediterranean to try to prevent repeats of the shipwrecks which have drowned hundreds of African migrants this month.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Saturday (October 12) that new patrols would be put in place south of Sicily, where tens of thousands of migrants in flimsy, overcrowded boats have crossed from Africa this year. Patrols by both ships and aircraft would be increased to identify boats in trouble. More than 30,000 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012, according to the UN refugee agency. Prime Minister Letta said "We cannot continue like this. We're in a situation where what's happening in North Africa, Eritrea, Somalia, Syria presents us with a real emergency."
The Prime Minister of Malta, which is also a target for many of the migrants trying to cross from North Africa into Europe, has warned that Europe was turning the Mediterranean into a "cemetery". He told the BBC he didn't know how many more people needed to die at sea before something gets done. Italy and Malta have asked for help from the EU and called for issue to put on the agenda of the next European Council meeting on October 24th and 25th.
The Italian government's moves follow the disaster ten days ago when over 350 migrants, mostly from Eritrea, drowned off Lampedusa. Over the weekend thirty more people died and more than 200 were rescued when another boat capsized and sank south of Sicily on Friday.