Hundreds of migrants land in Sicily, others rescued after boat runs aground in Spain

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Around 400 migrants disembarked on Friday from the ship Geo Barents at the Italian port of Augusta, in Sicily, more than a week after the first rescue operation was carried out in the Mediterranean Sea.

Of the people on board, mainly from Africa, some 100 were minors, the MSF charity operating the boat said. Around 40 migrants were affected by fuel burns, dehydration, hypothermia and infected scabies.

The Geo Barents took the first migrants on board on June 10 off the Libyan coast. Most of them will now face 14 days of coronavirus quarantine on another boat.

For years Italy was the primary route into Europe for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and other irregular migrants but the numbers making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean have fallen in recent years.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s unity government has pursued similar restrictive migration policies to the previous administration, impounding several charity rescue boats and supporting Libyan efforts to stop illegal migrant departures.

However, there has been a pick-up in arrivals in 2021, with 18,170 people reaching Italy so far against 5,696 in the same period last year, interior ministry data show.

More than 1,000 landings in the last few days have overwhelmed the reception centre on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main landing points for people trying to get into Europe.

Authorities are now moving migrants away from the island to ease pressure on the centre.

Two babies and two young children among rescued

In a separate development, more than 40 African migrants were rescued after their boat ran aground on the rocky coast of Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands late on Thursday, emergency services said, while over 100 people on two more boats made it safely to other islands.

At least three people died and at least two more were missing, including a six-year old girl. Rescue workers with a helicopter were searching the coast around Lanzarote’s northern region of Muelle de Orzola for them on Friday morning.

A dozen of the rescued group, including two babies and two young children, were transferred to hospital, the regional emergency services said.

Another boat carrying 58 people made it to Fuerteventura and a third with 52 people landed on the tiny island of El Hierro.

So far this year more than 5,700 migrants have made the dangerous crossing from Africa to the Canaries archipelago, over twice as many as in the same period in 2020, which itself saw an eightfold increase from 2019.

A record 850 died on the route last year, according to the United Nations migration agency, which suggested COVID-19 had prompted many workers in struggling industries like fishing or agriculture to migrate.

With arrival facilities on the Canaries packed to capacity, authorities have housed of migrants thousands in camps where conditions have criticised by rights groups.

Photo: Migrants are attended by emergency personnel as they arrive at the port of Orzola, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, 18 June 2021. EPA-EFE/Javier Fuentes Figueroa