On Thursday, 949 migrants were rescued in a total of eight rescue operations off the Libyan coast coordinated by the Central Office of the Italian Coast Guard, and a separate rescue operation by the Spanish military brought aboard another 517 migrants.
In a coordinated effort, rescuers came to the assistance of seven different boats and a barge and brought the nearly 1000 migrants aboard two ships, aided by the Italian Navy, Doctors without Borders, and three international military units involved in the European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED).
This military operation was launched earlier this year by the EU with the goal of saving as many lives as possible in the southern Mediterranean and to disrupt human smuggling operations. The program undertakes systematic efforts to identify, capture and dispose of vessels as well as enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers.
On Friday the two ships with the 949 migrants are expected to arrive at the Italian island of Sicily in the late morning. One of the ships, a Coast Guard vessel carrying 681 people, will arrive in Pozzallo, while the Belgian ship Leopold will arrive in the port of Augusta with 268 people.
Meanwhile, in a separate operation, Spain’s Defense Ministry says one of its vessels rescued 517 migrants from a wooden fishing vessel they discovered adrift off the Libyan coast as well.
The Spanish frigate took aboard 442 men, 40 women and 35 children and will deliver them later Friday to the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.
On Thursday the European Union released estimates that a staggering three million more migrants could arrive in Europe by the end of 2016, up from the already substantial three-quarter million migrants who have reached European shores so far this year.
According to the EU executive Commission, “overall, an additional three million persons is assumed to arrive in the EU over the forecast period.” Before the end of 2015, another 300,000 are expected.
The vast majority of the migrants are reaching Italy and Greece as their point of entry, resulting in a virtually unmanageable influx into reception centers in those countries. A small percentage of these seek political asylum while many more are looking for better economic conditions and employment opportunities.
The EU autumn economic forecasts predict that migrant arrival rates into Europe are unlikely to slow before 2017.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome