Italy’s coast guard said it coordinated the rescue of more than 4,200 migrants off Libya’s coast while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since Friday.
In some of the most intense Mediterranean migrant traffic of the year, a total of 4,243 people were saved from fishing boats and motorized rubber dighies.
The 22 operations took place Friday and involved ships from a host of European nations including Italy, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Britain. Rescued migrants were taken to southern Italian harbors, including Sicily.
The coast guard said it also found 17 corpses. The nationalities of the victims and circumstances of their death remain unknown, but Italian officials have often described the grim conditions — exhaustion, thirst, exposure and violence — found on what are usually flimsy vessels.
Calm seas and warm spring weather has led to an increase in migrants attempting the journey. Also, observers say worsening conditions in lawless Libya, the North African staging place for many migrants’ journeys, is contributing to the problem.
Many of the migrants come from Syria, Nigeria, Mali and Eritrea fleeing war, political persecution and economic woes.
Last month nearly 800 migrants drowned off Libya when their 20-meter-long fishing boat capsized and sank.
That spurred the European Union to agree on a naval mission to target gangs smuggling migrants from Libya, but a broader plan to deal with the influx is in doubt due to a dispute over national quotas for housing asylum seekers.
Italy has sought relief from sheltering the migrants, asking EU members for help. The EU has pressed it members to share the responsibility for the migrants, but some members are opposed to taking them in.
An EU plan to disperse 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other countries met with resistance this week.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to date. More than 1,800 migrants have perished at sea or remain unaccounted for.
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