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More Than 50,000 Migrants Have Arrived in Italy This Year

Several officials in northern Italy announced over the weekend they would refuse to take in any more "illegal immigrants."
Pierre Longeray
Paris, FR
Image via Royal Navy Media Archive / Flickr

European military ships patrolling the Mediterranean rescued nearly 6,000 people over the weekend, meaning the number of migrants who have arrived in Italy since the start of 2015 has passed the 50,000 mark.

In what has been described as the busiest weekend for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, an international flotilla made up of British, Irish, German, Swedish, and Italian military ships picked up 3,480 migrants on Saturday. By Sunday, some 5,800 migrants had been rescued from wooden vessels and rubber dinghies, and were being taken to ports in Sicily and in southern Italy.

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Several officials in northern Italy announced over the weekend they would refuse to take in any more "illegal immigrants."

Related: The Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500 Percent

5,800 rescued at sea
Royal Navy warship HMS Bulwark carried out its biggest rescue operation since the launch of its Mediterranean mission on May 5, rescuing 1,200 migrants Saturday off the coast of Libya. The migrants had set sail the previous night from the western coastal town of Zuwarah, in Libya, on boats packed with up to 400 migrants.

In total, the Bulwark's crew recovered migrants from eight boats, after a Merlin helicopter spotted the vessels around 15 miles off the coast of Libya, at around 5:50am. The Bulwark's deputy commander Charles Maynard compared the rescue mission to the D-Day landings.

"The 6th of June was known as the longest day, but the 7th of June was the longest day for Bulwark," he told Daily Mail reporters who were on board the ship. The migrants were due to disembark in Catania, Sicily.

Backlash against migrants
On Thursday the Italian interior minister said that the government had registered 48,905 arrivals since the start of 2015, and recent rescue missions have lifted the total to more than 50,000 — a 10 percent increase from last year. Italy has forecast that 200,000 migrants will land on its shores this year, compared to 170,000 in 2014.

The constant flow of migrants has caused a backlash in Italy's wealthy north, where several officials have announced they would no longer welcome migrants who had attempted the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. Roberto Maroni, the governor of Italy's northern Lombardy region — the most populous in the country — urged local mayors Sunday not to accept any more migrants allocated by the government. Maroni told mayors that accepting migrants could result in budget cuts.

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Related: Migrant Prisons of Libya: Europe or Die

Two other governors followed suit, including Liguria governor Giovanni Toti and Luca Zaia, the right-wing president of Veneto, the region that includes Venice. Zaia described his region as "a bomb ready to go off," and said social tensions in Veneto were "absolutely crazy."

Speaking from the G7 in Germany, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for solidarity at a European level.

"There is an immigration problem. To tackle it, we need the strength and courage to make ourselves heard at European meetings," he told reporters in Kruen.

On June 16, Europe's interior ministers will gather to discuss how to best distribute 40,000 migrants currently living in Italy and Greece among EU member states over the next two years.

Italy, which bears the brunt of Mediterranean migration, has long asked for the EU to overhaul the Dublin Regulation, which is a set of rules that determines which member state is responsible for processing a migrant's asylum claim. According to the regulation, migrants must apply for asylum in the state through which they entered Europe, placing an unfair burden on countries such as Italy or Greece.

Related: Europe Weighs Quota System and Crackdown on Smugglers in Response to Migrant Crisis

While some in Italy may be concerned about the economic implicating of the surge in migrants, others seem to have made the most of the phenomenon. Last week, authorities arrested 44 people as part of an investigation into allegations of corruption within the Rome city council. The "Mafia Capital" corruption scandal involves dozens of corrupt officials and business people, who stand accused of rigging lucrative public contracts to run migrant centers. Italy's undersecretary for Agricultural Resources Giuseppe Castiglione was the latest to be questioned in relation to the suspected fraud.

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Many of the migrants trying to reach the EU have reported the UK as their final destination. British prime minister David Cameron announced Sunday that he had asked international development secretary Justine Greening to examine whether the UK could repurpose part of its foreign aid budget to help boost security at borders in Africa, and towards "economic development" in the countries migrants are fleeing.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter @PLongeray

Image via Royal Navy Media Archive / Flickr

Watch the VICE News documentary: "Migrant Prisons of Libya: Europe or Die." 

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