With the weather turning warm and the seas calm, smugglers are more encouraged to send migrants across the Mediterranean come spring.
But aid groups say another timetable might be behind a weekend spike: the start of beefed-up Libyan coast guard patrols designed to prevent migrants from reaching Europe, the Associated Press said.
Over Easter weekend, rescue ships plucked some 8,360 people from 55 different rubber dinghies and wooden boats off Libya’s coast, Italy’s coast guard said. Thirteen bodies were also recovered. While such numbers are not unheard of for this time of year, they come as Italy is preparing to deliver patrol boats to Libya as part of a new European Union-blessed migration deal, according to the AP.
Italy and Libya inked a deal in February calling for Italy to train Libyan coast guard officers and to provide them with a dozen ships to patrol the country’s lawless coasts, it added.
EU leaders hailed the accord as a new commitment to save lives and stem the flow of illegal migration to Europe, where the refugee influx has become a heated political issue. Aid groups have criticized the accord as hypocritical and cruel, arguing that migrants who already have endured grave human rights abuses in Libya will face renewed violence, torture, sexual assault and other abuse if they are returned by the Libyan coast guard, AP explained.