The Italian Navy announced on Monday that it has discovered about 30 bodies in a migrant fishing boat during a rescue mission off the coast of Sicily; the deceased, who were packed below deck and appeared to have been asphyxiated or drowned, are just a few of the many thousands who, in recent years, have risked their lives to try to reach Italy by crossing from North Africa.
In the past weekend alone, "Italian authorities rescued more than 5,000 migrants in the Mediterranean, and some 60,000 people have reached Italian shores in the first six months of this year, compared with 42,000 in all of last year," the New York Times reports. The migrants, hailing from various countries in Africa and the Middle East (especially Syria), pay smugglers in North Africa (primarily in Libya) to transport them.
With its asylum system already under strain, Italy has appealed to the European Union for assistance with its "biblical exodus." In 2011, a record 63,000 migrants arrived in southern Italy following the Arab Spring. And now, according to Frontex, an EU border agency, that record is likely weeks away from being broken.
After two shipwrecks in 2013 killed 350 people off the island of Lampedusa, Italy launched a migrant search-and-rescue mission called Mare Nostrum.