More than 800 migrants rescued off Sicily, many of them Syrian

Alarm raised when coast guard recon plane spots two vessels in difficulty off southeastern coast of Italian island

Italian coast guard rescues migrants off the coast of Sicily, May 12, 2016. (Italian Navy/Massimo Sestini via UNHCR Italia)
Italian coast guard rescues migrants off the coast of Sicily, May 12, 2016. (Italian Navy/Massimo Sestini via UNHCR Italia)

ROME — At least 800 migrants were rescued off the coast of Sicily on Thursday, among them at least 150 Syrians, the Italian coast guard and the UN refugee agency said.

It was by far the largest number of Syrian refugees arriving in Italy this year, dwarfing the tiny handful who have so far made it this year on boats from North Africa, suggesting a possible change in tactic as the European Union and Turkey seal off access through Greece and the Balkans.

“This is something new,” said Flavio di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization of Migration, telling AFP that of the 31,000 people who have reached Italy this year, only 26 were Syrians. The overwhelming majority were from Africa.

The alarm was raised when a coastguard reconnaissance plane spotted two vessels in difficulty off the southeastern coast of Sicily.

A total of 515 people were rescued from the first boat while around 300 others were taken off the second, the coastguard said.

Of the 342 rescued by the Nave Peluso coastguard vessel, there were “at least 150 Syrian refugees and more than 40 Iraqis” on board, UN refugee agency spokeswoman Carlotta Sami wrote on Twitter.

She said they were expected to reach Augusta port at dawn on Friday.

The full number of Syrians and Iraqis on board will only be known when all of the migrants reach port.

With more than a million people entering Europe last year, countries along the Balkans route began shutting their borders in February, and a month later the EU inked a controversial deal with Ankara under which all migrants arriving on the Greek islands would be sent back to Turkey.

Since the deal took effect in early April, the numbers arriving in Greece have fallen dramatically, raising fears that Italy would soon become the main entry point into Europe.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.