ROCCELLA JONICA – The Italian Coast Guard on Sunday safely brought to shore more than 550 migrants, many of them young men or boys from Egypt, from storm-tossed waters off the southern “toe” of Italy’s mainland, as human traffickers increasingly use a new route.
One rescue began Saturday night and ended early Sunday when the 303 migrants, soaked and shivering, stepped on to the port of Roccella Jonica in the the Calabria region.
Later Sunday, after an Italian customs police boat spotted spotted another fishing vessel in difficulty off Calabria, coast guard crews ferried 250 migrants to the same port, Associated Press journalists in Roccella Jonica reported.
While most migrants seeking to reach Italy in the central Mediterranean depart from Libya or Tunisia, authorities say an increasing number of traffickers' boats are plying a route that begins in Turkey and ends at the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.
Those rescued from traffickers' unseaworthy rubber dinghies and wooden boats that depart from North Africa are usually taken to Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island, or to ports in Sicily. Those sailing from Turkey are generally taken to Calabria or Puglia in the “heel” of the Italian mainland.
The charity Resqship tweeted Sunday that after it alerted authorities about an overcrowded wooden boat with 100 migrants south of Lampedusa, the Italian coast vessel evacuated them to safety.
In Roccella Jonica, Red Cross volunteers early Sunday handed the migrants plastic clogs, blankets, food and protective face masks as part of COVID-19 precautions. Authorities recently set up a tent structure to serve as temporary housing but it's only for up to 120 people, so some of the migrants were driven to other shelters.
As of Nov. 12, 57,833 migrants had arrived in Italy by sea this year.
In 2020, more than 31,000 arrived. In 2019, when anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini used his post as interior minister to try to thwart charity boats from disembarking people they rescued at sea, just under 10,000 arrived.
D'Emilio reported from Rome. AP photographer Alessandra Tarantino contributed from Roccella Jonica.
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