Boat migrant arrivals to Italy up 500% in 2014
Warsaw - The number of boat migrants arriving in Italy soared 500% in the first half of the year, already topping a 2011 record during the Arab Spring uprisings, EU border agency Frontex said on Tuesday,
The Warsaw-based agency said 78 300 people had arrived in the EU by the end of July via the hazardous Mediterranean route from Libya to mainly Italy, but also Malta.
The figure is up from 12 915 during the same period last year.
Eritreans and Syrians make up the bulk of migrants risking the sea journey, but many sub-Saharan Africans, mostly from Mali and Sudan, also arrive via that route, said Frontex spokesperson Izabella Cooper.
"Libya is highly unstable as it is now, and that means that the people-smuggling networks are flourishing," Cooper told AFP.
"But at the same time, you have migrants from a number of countries that are at war. You have Syrians of course, but also Eritreans and Somalis."
The figures for this year so far have already smashed the record for all of 2011 when the Arab Spring uprisings saw 64 300 migrants enter the EU via the Mediterranean route.
The flow of migrants fleeing war zones and setting out from Libya to Italy, or from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria, has sparked tensions within the EU.
The deaths of hundreds of boat migrants seeking to reach Europe has also thrust the issue into the public eye.
EU ministers met last month to discuss how to help Italy deal with the thousands of migrants arriving on its coasts each year, many of whom place themselves in the hands of traffickers to then try to reach the European country of their choice.
The European Commission said the refusal of member states to be flexible on asylum requests was fuelling the crisis.