Around 30 migrants found dead on boat near Sicily

In this photo released by the Italian Navy on Monday, June 30, 2014, and taken on Sunday, June 29, 2014, two lifeboats from the Italian frigate Grecale carries a group of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea

(Reuters) – As many as 30 corpses were found on a boat packed with migrants off the coast of Sicily, Italy’s navy said on Monday after rescuing thousands of people trying to cross from North Africa over the weekend.

The dead are thought to have either suffocated on the overcrowded fishing vessel or drowned, the navy said.

The discovery on Sunday underlined the scale of the crisis in the southern Mediterranean, where hundreds have died in the past year making the journey to Europe, and tens of thousands more have been plucked from rickety boats.

More than 5,000 people were rescued this weekend, adding to the 50,000 migrants who have reached Italy from North Africa so far this year, many fleeing war and forced conscription as well as poverty and a lack of opportunity.

Italy has called on its European Union partners to do more to help manage the near daily arrivals, a phenomenon that has boosted voter support for the anti-immigration Northern League party in a country struggling to emerge from recession…

The Ansamed news service is more melodramatic: New Migrant disaster shakes Italy, pressures EU: …[Mare Nostrum] has saved some 65,000 migrants since the start of the year, more than 2011’s record 63,000 rescues, government data revealed Monday.

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But it is straining to cope and migrant centers are overflowing. Italy has repeatedly asked the EU for more help in dealing with the influx.

Reciprocity on asylum seekers and migrants was scratched from the EU summit conclusions last week under strong pressures from northern European countries.

On Monday, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the EU is looking for ways “to contribute more” financially to rescues in Italy, but only “with respect to existing resources,” thus ruling out new funds. Italy’s right-wing parties seized the moment to up pressure either to reform or abandon Mare Nostrum.

“Stop crossing, help them at home now!” said Matteo Salvini, the head of the anti-immigrant Northern League on Facebook. “The shirts of [Premier Matteo] Renzi and [Interior Minister Angelino] Alfano are stained with blood.”

The rescue program has come under increasing fire from the League as well as the center-right Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi for its cost and for allegedly facilitating human trafficking.

“With Mare Nostrum we’ve incentivized, with grave consequences, an influx of illegal migrants that seems unstoppable. Our country must put an end to the operation and force the EU to confront this problem which is a European one rather than an Italian one,” said FI Senator Vincenzo Gibiino from Sicily. He was echoed by Lombardi Governor Roberto Maroni of the Northern League…

“We’re truly at the limit,“ said Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia, adding that Milan accepts on average 1,000 refugees per day. “This is really Europe’s responsibility. It’s leaving Italy all by itself.”