Amid growing migrant crisis, 20 burn victims rescued at sea

MILAN, Apr 18: The unabated flow of migrants fleeing instability in Libya has brought a new horror, the discovery of 20 migrants adrift at sea who had suffered grave burn injuries in a cooking gas explosion before departing Libya, and then were forced onto a smuggler’s boat without treatment.

Italian ships have picked up 10,000 people, many of them refugees of war and persecution, over the past week, an unprecedented number in such a short period. The influx is putting pressure on Italy’s shelter system and raising calls for a better response to the emergency.

Yesterday’s rescue comes after the feared drowning of more than 400 migrants in two shipwrecks in the last week, bringing to more than 900 the number of people who have died or gone missing so far this year making the perilous crossing — 10 times higher than over the same period last year.

In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged more intense cooperation with Italy on threats coming from the instability in Libya, which has contributed to the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean. Libya, the closest point in north Africa to Italy, is a transit point for migrants hoping to reach Europe by sea.

Speaking after a meeting with the visiting Italian prime minister, Obama promised to “work together even more intensively to encourage cooperation on threats coming from Libya, including the growing ISIL presence there, as well as additional coordination with other partners in how we can stabilize what has become a very deadly and difficult situation.”

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said he expected to see results of the commitment in the coming weeks. “It has to do with the justice and the dignity of mankind,” he said. Among the burn victims rescued yesterday after two days adrift on a half-deflated dinghy was a 6-month-old baby. They were among 70 migrants who were rescued and transported to the Italian island of Lampedusa. One of the burn victims, a woman, died en route.

The UN refugee agency said the cooking gas explosion occurred at a holding center run by smugglers who demand thousands of euros (dollars) for a place on unseaworthy boats making the journey across the Mediterranean.

“A gas cylinder exploded and killed several people and injured many others,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman in Italy, Barbara Molinario. “The traffickers would not allow them to leave and reach the hospital so they did not get treatment for a few days. And then they were put on a boat.” (AGENCIES)

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