At the start of this beautiful season, the weather is still a little uncertain. Also, in the absence of official information, the best way to stay informed of the situation in the Sicily Channel is to consult the marine weather forecast. Visibility has been poor since the middle of the week, but the sea is oily. Also the departures of migrants from the African coasts towards Europe have suddenly increased in number.
“Basically it’s very predictable, and it’s the same summer and winter, explains the French José Benavente, of the NGO Pilotes Volunteers, which has been increasing the number of trips over this area of the Mediterranean since 2018 in order to detect boats in distress. As soon as there are several days of calm, boats leave en masse from the African coast. “ After eight outings in two weeks, the NGO’s small plane was to leave at dawn on Saturday morning to try to find a small boat with 14 people on board. The dinghy has been drifting at sea for three days, information is poor and hopes of finding its trace are dwindling hour by hour.
Currently, in the area, there are no longer any NGO ships. The small Spanish humanitarian boat Aita-Mari, who has rescued 50 migrants in distress in recent days, has reached its limit, and has had to travel north to be assigned a place of disembarkation, while the Sea-Eye-4 is held up for quarantine after disembarking 415 asylum seekers in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on May 20 – commercial vessels rescuing migrants at sea are exempt from this health measure, but the Italian authorities clearly do not want to also be accommodating with humanitarians. As for the new vessel chartered by the NGO Médecins sans frontières, the Geo-Barents, it won’t happen for a few days.
Also, in this context of the absence of observers in the area, the activity of the NGO Volunteer Pilots is even more valuable in trying to understand the reality of the situation. According to data compiled by the Ministry of the Interior, since 1is January, Italy welcomed more than 14,000 migrants in its ports. This is much more than in 2020 (5,000 arrivals) or in 2019 (1,490 landings), but it remains well below the levels of the period 2013-2017, at the height of the migrant crisis. How to explain this recent increase? “I don’t think it’s due to any relaxation of the Libyans operating in the area, but it’s just that there are a lot of departures. However, when there are several boats trying their luck at the same time, they cannot be everywhere… However, there is a very important surveillance activity of European planes and Frontex drones, but that is not enough ”, continues the pilot.
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