Two Italian military vessels carrying over 2,000 migrants arrived Wednesday at the southern ports of Reggio Calabria and Trapani, the navy said.
Originating mainly from African and Middle East countries, the migrants had been rescued in the Strait of Sicily, as part of the major rescue operation called “Mare Nostrum (Our Sea)”.
The San Giorgio vessel carried 1,023 people to Reggio Calabria, where migrants were given first aid. Among them were 141 minors and 84 women, the navy said. Also on board was the body of a dead migrant who had been recently found at sea.
The Etna vessel brought another 1,171 migrants to the Sicilian port of Trapani, with 87 children and 193 women among them.
Most migrants had been saved between Saturday and Sunday, and other 200 people were rescued while they were sailing aboard three rafts on Monday night, the navy stated. All of them will receive first assistance and will be then sorted out to different immigration centers throughout the country.
Italian police also arrested two Tunisian men, one Eritrean, and one Somali citizen on charges of migrant smuggling. The four men had been found aboard some rafts along with 470 migrants, which were rescued in the Strait of Sicily and brought to Pozzallo port on Tuesday.
According to police, they would be part of the same smuggling network operating between Africa and Italy.
The Mare Nostrum operation is carried out by Italian navy and aircrafts, and backed by the European Union (EU). The sea patrols are performed in the Strait of Sicily and along African coasts, especially before Libya, in order to tackle the growing inflow and try to save those who undertake the journey to Europe in what usually are extremely unsafe conditions at sea.
Italy is seen as one of the main gates to get into Europe, and its government decided to launch the rescue mission in October 2013, after two incidents off the coasts of Lampedusa island caused the death of more than 400 migrants. The disaster shocked Italy’s public opinion and authorities at the time.
The migration inflow has been increasing in recent times. Some 66,000 people have reached Italy by sea between January and June, according to Italian Interior Ministry and UNHCR estimates.
It is a record high number that exceeds even the 62,000 arrivals registered when unrest hit West Asia and North Africa in 2011.