Despite promising a crackdown, right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has seen arrivals triple this year
Italian authorities brought 1,650 predominantly African and Middle Eastern migrants ashore before dawn on Saturday, depositing them in already overcrowded shelters. One day earlier, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced stiffer penalties for traffickers, in a bid to reduce arrival numbers that have soared under her administration.
A coast guard ship took 584 people aboard from two stranded migrant vessels, while two smaller coast guard motor boats took on 379, the Associated Press reported, citing government figures. Another migrant vessel holding 487 people was escorted to shore by coast guard and border police boats.
The groups of 584 and 487 were brought to shore in Calabria, while the 379 were taken to the Sicilian port of Augusta, due to overcrowding in shelters in Calabria.
"The rescues were complex due to the boats being overloaded with migrants and the unfavourable sea conditions," the coast guard said in a statement.
Local officials told Reuters that an additional 200 people were picked up off the coast of Sicily, while the air force was flying migrants out of an overcrowded shelter on the island of Lampedusa, which lies closer to North Africa than the Italian coast.
More than 17,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, compared to 6,000 in the same period last year.
Meloni came to power last year promising to increase deportations and stop NGO vessels from ferrying migrants to Italian ports. While she has succeeded in reducing the number of these vessels operating through fines and impoundings, the number of migrants making the journey has increased, prompting her to announce tougher jail sentences for human smugglers and their accomplices on Thursday.
Meloni blamed smugglers for a shipwreck that killed at least 76 migrants off the coast of Calabria last Saturday. She claimed on Thursday that her new measures - under which Italy will also prosecute smugglers operating in international waters - will help combat "the slavery of the third millennium."