The Italian navy and coast guard engaged in three different rescue operations Friday in order to bring to safety 978 migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to a coast guard Twitter post.
The migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast following distress calls made from the boats via satellite phone, daily Corriere della Sera reported in its online edition.
The government is continuing its “taxi service” to help the criminals that ferry these people over the sea, leader of the opposition Northern League party Matteo Salvini posted on social media following the rescues.
Migration to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea has increased as people flee wars and conflict in countries like Libya, Syria and Somalia. Last year, 218,000 irregular migrants tried to reach Europe, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The same year, Italy saved 100,250 people through its rescue operation Mare Nostrum at a cost of 114 million euros ($120 million), according to the Italian Interior Ministry. That operation was discontinued in November due to its high cost and criticism from politicians like Salvini that it was helping criminals exploit migrants. Operation Triton, a more limited effort coordinated by European Union border police agency Frontex, has replaced it.