ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s search and rescue mission saved more than 1,700 migrants in the Mediterranean in the past three days and found one person dead on a half-submerged raft, the navy said on Tuesday.
This year’s calmer summer weather has seen record numbers of people attempt to cross the sea from North Africa to Italy, often on packed boats and leaking rafts. Many are fleeing poverty, war and military conscription.
Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” or “Our Sea” mission rescued more than 1,500 people in the Strait of Sicily between Saturday and Monday and more than 200 more from three rafts on Monday night, the navy said.
The rescue mission found one body on a sinking raft from it rescued another 12 people about 40 miles from the Libyan coast, the navy said.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that around 500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far this year, compared to 700 during the whole of last year.
At the frontier between Europe and Africa, Italy has long attracted seaborne migrants, but civil war in Syria and forced military service in Eritrea have triggered a recent surge.
Around 66,000 people have arrived via sea since January, the UNHCR estimates, surpassing the previous record of around 62,000 for all of 2011, year of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
Crumbling order in Libya has also made it almost impossible to control the number of boats leaving the country, often laden with people who have paid traffickers more than $1,000 each.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has asked the United Nations to intervene to contain the crisis in Libya and has called on the European Union to invest in the region’s border control agency.
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky