Italy says 4,100 boat migrants rescued off the coast of Libya

More than 200,000 African migrants expected to try and reach Europe this summer


Nearly 4,100 migrants were rescued from boats near the coast of Libya on Saturday and Sunday and rescue operations continued as people smugglers took advantage of calm seas, Italy’s coast guard and navy said.

All of those rescued were being brought to Italian shores, with some already arriving at Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, and Trapani in Sicily. More were to be brought ashore overnight and on Monday.

Separately, authorities in Egypt said that three people died when a migrant boat attempting to reach Greece sank off its coast. Thirty-one people were rescued.

Growing lawlessness and anarchy in Libya is giving free hand to people smugglers trafficking mostly people from various parts of Africa and the Middle East fleeing conflict and poverty. The smugglers make an average of €80,000 from each boatload, according to an ongoing investigation by an Italian court.

Mild spring weather and calm summer seas are expected to push total arrivals in Italy for 2015 to 200,000, an increase of 30,000 over last year, according to an Interior Ministry projection.

Shocked by what was described as the most deadly Mediterranean shipwreck in memory last month, European Union leaders agreed to triple funding for the EU Triton sea patrol mission after a migrant boat capsized and up to 900 people drowned.

Italy coordinated the weekend’s rescue efforts, with some 10 Italian vessels, four private boats and a French ship acting on behalf of the European border control agency.

While the EU has stepped up its sea mission, Italy remains the country that hosts most of the arrivals in immigration centres.

Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that the EU should set up a quota system whereby member countries agree to take in more refugees in order to relieve some of the pressure on Italy, Greece and Malta.

But Austria’s proposal likely will face tough opposition from some members states, including Britain and Hungary.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said on Friday member countries should be allowed to set their own rules on migrants, and that Hungary did not want any of them.