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Africa

18 Migrants die off the coast of Italy

media North African migrants on Lampedusa island. March 2011. Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi/Files

The Italian coast guard confirmed on Sunday that eighteen people were found dead on an inflatable dinghy that was floating south of the island Lampedusa. 73 Survivors were rescued.

The navy ship Sirio was part of the rescue operation that took place on Sunday. It approached the dinghy and found there were 18 people who had died on board, and 73 survivors.

This incident is one of many this year that underline the growing problem of migrants trying to reach Europe and dying as a result of the perils of the journey.

Operation Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), a large-scale naval operation that aims to detect these illegal crossings and assist the people on board, has rescued more than 3,500 people since Friday in the stretch between Sicily and the Libyan and Tunisian coasts.

Most of the people that make these crossings come from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria, but also from Libya that has recently descended into instability.

By mid-August this year, the number of migrants arriving in Italy surpassed 100,000, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

In 2011, the year of the Arab uprisings, slightly more than 60,000 migrants arrived by sea in Italy.

Italy is struggling to shoulder the cost of this sea rescue operation alone and has called on the rest of Europe to help. Mare Nostrum costs 12 million euro per month.

According to Capt. Enrico Esposto, who heads of the naval operations division of Mare Nostrum, the smuggling of these migrants to Europe is now worse than slavery. He says slave traders cared that the slaves arrive safely at their destination, but to modern-day smugglers, that does not matter.

Migrants are stuffed into over-crowded and unsafe sea vessels, with little regard for their personal safety.

It can cost about $2,500 for a migrant to get a place on deck, and those who can only afford to pay $1,000 or less are forced into the hold of the vessel. Here they could die from a lack of oxygen, as was the case a month ago when 30 to 40 people who had died in this manner were discovered deep inside a boat.

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