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Italy stepping up sea, air patrols following migrant deaths

Italy stepping up sea, air patrols following migrant deaths

PanARMENIAN.Net - Italy is stepping up sea and air patrols following the deaths of hundreds of migrants sailing in overcrowded boats from North Africa, BBC News reported.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta said an "air and naval package" would start on Monday south of Sicily.

On Friday, Oct 11, at least 33 people died when their boat capsized between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. A week earlier, more than 350 migrants died in another shipwreck off Lampedusa.

Italy has previously called for EU help in dealing with the thousands of desperate migrants who wash up on its beaches every year. Many are families fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East who hope for a better life in Europe.

But the recent loss of life has led to further calls for EU action.

Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro said the country intended to triple its presence in the southern Mediterranean.

It had become necessary "in part by the fact that Libya is currently a 'non-state'," he told Italian newspaper Avvenire. "We need strong action to stop these shipwrecks," he added.

Italian media reported that unmanned drone aircraft based in Sicily could also be used to identify boats in trouble.

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said the patrols would be to rescue migrants rather than "telling them to stay where they are".

In addition to coastguard and border police vessels, the Italian navy currently has three ships supported by four helicopters patrolling the area. It can also call on two surveillance aircraft with night-vision capabilities.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Lampedusa told the BBC that Italy is also planning to increase its capacity for receiving migrants from 8,000 to 16,000.

"[Migrants] should be transferred to the mainland, to the proper reception system. It's a huge effort [Italy] is making... the reception capability will be raised starting from next January," Maurizio Molina said.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said European waters close to Africa are turning into a cemetery, after another boat laden with migrants capsized. Muscat said Malta felt "abandoned" by the rest of Europe and insisted that the EU had to take action.

Muscat said prompt action between Malta and Italy had saved lives, but he complained that "from the European side we have heard only talk, empty talk really".

"Right now politicians are thinking about tightening or loosening migration rules. In our case our main concern is these people at sea," he said. "We feel abandoned by Europe. I don't know how many more people need to die at sea before something gets done. We will make sure our voice is heard during the next European Council. Rules need to change, whether they are tighter or looser is not the issue, the fact is that this thing is broken and it needs to be fixed."

Muscat added: "As things stand we are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea."

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