EU rescue missions have saved more than 5,000 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea since Friday, the bloc’s border control agency Frontex reported Sunday.
The rescue missions were jointly carried out by British, Maltese, Belgian and Italian vessels and Icelandic and Finnish planes, as part of the EU operation Triton coordinated by Frontex.
“This is the biggest wave of migrants we have seen in 2015,” Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said in a statement Sunday.
“The new vessels that joined operation Triton this week have already saved hundreds of people,” Leggeri added.
Meanwhile, rescuers brought corpses of 17 migrants ashore in Sicily Sunday along with 454 survivors who were found afloat on a boat. Italian prosecutors have launched an investigation into how the 17 migrants died.
The migrants will be disembarked at the Italian ports of Lampedusa, Crotone, Pozzallo, Augusta, Trapani, Porto Empedocle, Palermo, Taranto and Cagliari, according to Frontex.
The rescue mission comes amid the European Commission calls on EU member states to take in 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea who land in Italy and Greece over the next two years.
This is an addition to EU’s announcement on May 13 about its plans to accept 20,000 migrants over the course of two years and resettle them across the 28-nation bloc in the wake of the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
EU leaders gathered in April to discuss dismantling of criminal networks and destruction of boats used by migrant smugglers in Libya.
They say their plan is to prevent smugglers from endangering the lives of migrants at sea, but critics say the plan is to stop migrants from reaching Europe, reviving the term “Fortress Europe.”
Over 36,000 migrants arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year, not including the migrants rescued this weekend, according to Frontex.