Italy launches rescue for hundreds of refugees on boats | Migration News

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An estimated 1,300 people are at risk off Calabria, where 73 people recently drowned in a shipwreck that prompted an investigation into Italy’s rescue operations.

Italy’s coast guard has launched several rescue operations to save hundreds of refugees packed aboard boats off the Calabria region, less than two weeks after at least 73 people drowned in a shipwreck.

“The rescue operations… are particularly complicated due to the large number of people on board the boats drifting away,” the coast guard said in a statement on Friday.

About 1,300 people were believed to be at risk.

Coastguard vessels were dispatched to rescue 500 people on a boat about 1,125km (700 miles) off the area which is the toe of the shoe-shaped Italian peninsula.

Other ships were sent to rescue 800 people on two other boats in trouble about 160km (100 miles) off Calabria.

The coast guard has requested additional help from a navy patrol boat, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

“The military vessel is proceeding at full speed to offer the requested assistance,” the Ministry of the Interior said in a statement quoted by ANSA.

Italy’s refugee sea rescue capabilities came under scrutiny following a shipwreck on February 26 on the same stretch of coast.

A boy’s body was recovered on Friday, bringing the death toll to 73 with many more people still missing.

Police vessels had tried but failed to reach their wooden boat last week but returned due to bad weather. The coast guards, which were better equipped to face rough seas, were not immediately activated.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Italian authorities failed to properly respond to the vessel after the European border control agency, Frontex, warned them that the ship might be carrying a large number of people.

Italy’s right-wing government has strongly denied any blame for the wreck. They responded to the incident on Thursday by proposing tougher prison sentences for smugglers and the opening of legal migration routes.

Almost 3,000 refugees have arrived in Italy by boat since Wednesday, compared to around 1,300 last March.

In a separate incident earlier on Friday, the coast guard picked up nearly 500 refugees near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, local media reported.

ANSA said that 1,869 refugees arrived in Lampedusa on Thursday on board 41 boats, the highest number ever recorded on the island.

The Contrada Imbriacola reception center had accommodated 3,000 people, the group said.

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