Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.jpg
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano
Photograph: EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

The multiple migrant deaths off the coast of Libya over the past few days are exposing the European Union's failure to get to grips with the situation, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano charged on Saturday.

This week there have been three shipwrecks in three days, with 50 dead and at least 20 missing, and Italy's Coastguard coordinated the rescue of about 13,000 people, including 668 on Saturday. A German Navy unit helped with operations, the coastguard said in a statement.

In the previous week, there were fewer than 1,700 landings on Italian shores, according to data compiled by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"All the victims that we are picking up from the sea are the proof of how far and late Europe is in its relations with African nations," Alfano said at an event in Lecce, southern Italy, as quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Italy wants the EU to give money to African countries to develop their economies, tighten their border controls, build migrant screening camps on their territories, and take back irregular migrants.

While trying to reassure public opinion that Italy was not facing an emergency, as migrant arrivals are broadly stable from last year despite the surge in recent days, Alfano called for a "serious agreement to try to contain departures" to be negotiated with Libya.

Following the closure of the Balkan route, Italy has become the main entry point for Europe-bound migrants, and warmer weather is expected to encourage more departures. Most rescues carried out this week took place about 55 kilometers north of the Libyan city of Zuwarah.

The deadliest incident took place on Friday. The Italian Navy rescued 135 people from a semi-sunken ship, but also 45 bodies. An Italian spokesman for Unicef, Andrea Iacomini, said Saturday that three babies were among the victims.

On Thursday, 96 people were rescued from another sinking boat, and about 20 were reported dead. A day earlier, a vessel overturned, and the Italian Navy rescued 550 people and recovered five bodies, but survivors said a further 100 passengers were missing.

According to a May 27 tally by the IOM, 1,115 migrants have died on the central Mediterranean route since the start of 2016, compared to 1,782 in the January-May 2015 period.

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