By Stefan J. Bos
Many were rescued within 48 hours in international waters near Libya in recent days. They include nearly 100 passengers in an overcrowded and unseaworthy dinghy.
"We need you to calm down, we need you to calm down," said a rescue worker as he tried to approach the people in the small rubber boat. "Otherwise, we can't help, calm down."
More than a dozen frightened women and dozens of men and children were taken from the dingy. They later received medical care on board. Among those rescued are also unaccompanied minors.
Yet they are among the lucky ones. The United Nations estimates that at least 443 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe this year alone.
The Sea Watch group says its ship also rescued migrants from other vessels, including 27 people more than three long weeks ago.
Their rescue operations began after another boat carrying dozens of migrants bound for Europe capsized near Libya. They also received migrants from a smaller privately funded rescue boat, the Louise Michel.
Sea-Watch said it was waiting for a port off Malta. Disembarking rescued migrants in Italy has become particularly politically sensitive during the pandemic. Last week, the governor of Sicily closed all migrant centers on the Italian island, saying they had become too crowded to guarantee social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some rescued migrants in Italy have also tested positive for COVID-19, though it remains unclear how many were hospitalized. On Thursday, an administrative court in Sicily ruled that the governor's order be stayed for now, pending an outcome of an expected challenge by Italy's central government.
But even if migrants finally make it into the European Union, their future remains uncertain.
Despite the uncertainty, many migrants continue to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean, searching for what they believe will be a better life than the hardship faced home.