A fishing boat with nearly 700 people on bard was rescued overnight Monday off the coast of Lampedusa. It is the single biggest arrival of migrants in Italy in five years, and comes as the number of people making the crossing from Libya is increasing, and Italy is pressing other EU member for help.
Late Monday night Italian coast guard ships escorted a rusty, 15-metre fishing boat overloaded with 686 people into the city of Lampedusa on the Italian island of Sicily.
“This is the highest number of persons arrived on a single boat in 2021," said the United Nations refugee agency. “Such numbers—in a single arrival—were not registered since August 2016."
According to the aid group Mediterranean Hope, the people left from Libya, and came from Egypt, Morocco, Chad, Ethiopia, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal.
Local authorities said another 67 people reached port later Monday on smaller vessels after being rescued by police.
The new arrivals were moved to another vessel for Covid-19 quarantine. Italy has recently begun a programme to vaccinate newly-arrived migrants.
Lampedusa is one of the main destinations for Libyan-based migrant smugglers, and one of the main landing points for people trying to get into Europe.
Italy has repeatedly urged other states to cooperate in order to better handle the influx of people, which has been increasing this year.
Nearly 45,000 migrants have landed on Italy's coasts since the start of 2021, up from 23,500 in the same period last year, and five times the number who arrived in 2019.
Overall numbers are still down from 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East crossed the Mediterranean to get to Europe.