The Italian coast guard rescued 3,000 more refugees and economic migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday near Libya, Agence France-Presse reported, bringing the number of people rescued and brought to Italian ports this year to 37,000. As the weather gets warmer, more people are attempting the crossing, with 5,600 rescued in the past 48 hours alone.
While the breakdown of nationalities of those rescued was not immediately available, the majority came from sub-Saharan Africa, according to AFP. Middle Eastern refugees and economic migrants have not yet begun to switch their migration route from Greece to Italy, according to data from Italian authorities.
Migration experts had predicted that refugees from Iraq, Syria and other war-torn Middle Eastern countries who had been attempting to seek asylum in Europe by crossing into Greece would switch to the migration route from North Africa to Southern Italy. More than 1 million people, nearly half of them Syrian, sought asylum in Europe in 2015. Closure of borders along the popular Western Balkan route, as well as a European deal with Turkey, increasingly blocked the migration path from the Greek islands through the Western Balkan states to Germany or other Northern European nations this year.
Under a March deal between the European Union and Turkey, all people who arrive safely in Greece to seek asylum risk being sent back to Turkey. The deal, which has been highly criticized by humanitarian groups, aims to crack down on human smuggling by stipulating that for each Syrian refugee sent back to Turkey from Greece, one already living in Turkey will be resettled in Europe.
“Closing another route is akin to locking a door on a burning building,” Iverna McGowan, head of the European Institutions Office and advocacy director at Amnesty International in Brussels, told International Business Times in March. “People will jump out the windows; people will find another way.”