More than 4,000 migrants have arrived on Europe’s shores by boat in the past two days, with the Italian government calling the crisis ‘increasingly glaring’.
The emergency comes days after Italy’s Home Secretary Angelino Alfano warned that more than half a million migrants were ready to set sail from Northern Africa for Europe.
It’s time for Italy to stand up and start shooting at the boats and turn them away. If they do sink,then begin rescue operations only from the cold water and then return them to Africa immediately. Yes a few boatloads will be sad and some will even die, but eventually the boat traffic will stop. They will see this is no longer a corridor to Italy.
They should also seriously consider mining and sinking the island of Lampedusa itself. It will be a much longer trip from Africa to Sicily.
More than 40,000 people made the journey to Italy last year, often on unseaworthy boats.
So far this year 15,000 migrants have landed on the Italian coastline, a ten-fold increase on the first three months of 2013.
British experts believe one in five of them continue on to the UK.
Mr Alfano told Italian radio: ‘The landings are non-stop and the emergency is increasingly glaring.
‘Right now two merchant ships are rescuing two boats with 300 and 361 people aboard.
‘It appears there’s at least one corpse on board’.
He added: ‘ Europe must take the situation in hand.’
The traffickers, who reap vast profits from the boatloads, are equipped with satellite phones and send out requests for help just 30 to 40 miles after leaving the Libyan coasts, he said.
One Italian Navy ship, the San Giorgio, was called to the rescue of four overcrowded boats containing 1,000 people, including women and children, who did not have life jackets.
The other 3,000 migrants were rescued by a combination of coastguard, patrol vessels and merchant ships before being brought ashore.
On Tuesday Mr Alfano called an emergency summit with police, Navy and coast guard officials participating in the rescue-and-surveillance operation to deal with the emergency.
Illegal migrants landing in the EU have to remain in the country where they first seek asylum.
But many hope to pass through Italy undetected to northern Europe, which has better job prospects and generous benefits.
In the wake of a tragic shipwreck last year in which more than 300 migrants died, Italy called for a pan-European search and rescue mission to intercept migrant boats ‘from Cyprus to Spain’.