Dozens missing and hundreds rescued in tragic weekend of boat disasters

Published: 2 May 2016 11:47 CET

By Nichola Jones, IFRC

More than 700 people attempting the lethal sea crossing from North Africa to Italy were rescued and taken to Sicily this weekend.

Italian Red Cross teams at the port of Pozzallo and Messina provided emergency medical care, food, water and psychological support to survivors who were rescued by the Italian coastguard on Sunday. Two bodies were also retrieved in the rescue.

The arrivals in Sicily came just two days after 26 survivors of a capsized boat off the Libyan coast were rescued and taken to Lampedusa where Red Cross teams were on hand to provide emergency support. At least 84 people are still missing.

President of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, said: “Our teams are working across shorelines and ports in Italy, on the frontline of this ongoing tragedy, supporting survivors left acutely traumatized by the stress and terror of these journeys.

“Last year, thousands died attempting this journey. Safe and legal routes for those escaping hunger, poverty and violence must be found otherwise people will continue to die.”

As summer approaches and waters become calmer, it is expected many more people will attempt to make the treacherous crossing to Italy from north Africa, particularly from Libya.

The Libyan Red Crescent is among the few organizations in the country providing support for migrants and their families. This includes emergency supplies, medical care and psychosocial support. Branches also work to reconnect rescued migrants with loved ones and provide support to those who are trying to return to their home countries.

Volunteers along the country’s coastline also have the difficult task of retrieving the bodies of people who have died attempting to make the crossing, in an effort to provide some dignity to those who would otherwise be easily forgotten.

Libyan Red Crescent spokesman, Mohammed Al Mosrati, said: “Unfortunately, as weather conditions are improving, the Libyan shores have come to witness more and more boat tragedies.

Last month alone, the Red Crescent provided aid and medical care to more than 250 rescued migrants.”

More than 27,000 people have arrived in Europe from Libya to Italy this year – suggesting the lethal crossing from northern Africa will again become a primary route for migrants. In 2015, more than 150,000 people made the same journey. The Italian Red Cross has teams across the country’s ports and reception centres, on hand to provide vital support to rescued migrants.