“Italy tells migrants ‘Welcome, you’re safe,’ tells EU to help more,” by Steve Scherer for Reuters (reposted by Euronews):
As night approached one evening in early May, 40 miles off the Libyan coast, Captain Aldo Dolfini trained his binoculars on a tiny vessel packed with 300 desperate men as waves whipped up by a northerly wind crashed against it.
“Tell them we’re Italian! They’ll know they’re safe!” he barked by radio to sailors manning the two small rescue boats he had sent out to meet the unpowered vessel.
The sailors threw life vests onto the boat and began to pull the men, one by one, to safety.
Dolfini, a 52-year-old seafarer with full beard, big belly and unquestioned authority, is on the frontline of one of Europe’s biggest-ever search and rescue missions.
Italy launched the mission last October as an emergency measure to prevent shipwrecks after 366 men, women and children fleeing African countries drowned when their boat capsized a mile from Sicily.
The Italian government called the operation Mare Nostrum, Latin for “Our Sea”, and hoped that other EU countries would eventually join the effort to stem the influx along one of the most popular migrant routes between Africa and Europe.
More than 43,000 people from dozens of countries – including Syrians fleeing civil war and Eritreans evading military conscription – have been plucked from the sea in the seven months since Mare Nostrum began. That is the same number that completed the dangerous crossing or were intercepted during the whole of last year…