Italy, Malta ask for help with migrants

Italy and Malta have appealed for more assistance from other European states to help manage the sharp increase of arrivals of boat loads of refugees from sub-Saharan and northern Africa and the Middle East on their shores this year.The United Nations refugee agency estimates 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year.

Italy said Monday it is stepping up its naval and air patrols in the Mediterranean in an attempt to prevent repeats of the shipwrecks that have drowned hundreds of migrants in recent days.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the operation was needed because “the Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard.”

On Sunday, Malta called on the European Union to develop a “clear strategy” to deal with the migrants.

Syrian refugees who survived the recent capsizing of their boat off Malta said Sunday they were shot at by “militiamen” as they began their perilous journey from Libya.

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, made an unannounced visit to Tripoli Sunday to discuss the refugee flow with Libya’s prime minister, Ali Zidan. It was not immediately clear what was accomplished in the meeting.

Many migrants make their way by land to Libya where they pay smugglers to ferry them to Europe’s nearest shores — Italy’s Lampedusa or the island nation of Malta.

Muscat, said there were 11 doctors, including a neurosurgeon, in the most recent group of Syrian refugees.

(Photo: UNHCR/F. Noy)