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Norway to send rescue boat to Mediterranean

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Norway to send rescue boat to Mediterranean
Tuva Raanes Bogsnes from the Norwegian Refugee Council. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council
08:50 CEST+02:00
Norway will send a rescue ship to the Mediterranean this summer in a move to cut the number of refugees killed crossing from Africa to Europe.
The government confirmed in a statement that a Norwegian ship staffed with civilian workers as well as justice and defence personnel was expected to be in place in the Mediterranean around August 1st. 
 
Norway has never before committed to joining rescue teams in the Mediterranean, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a statement that the country would also consider contributing to an expanded European Union rescue mission. 
 
The European Union will hold an emergency summit this Thursday after some 700 migrants died when their boat capsized off Libya. 
 
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) last week increased its pressure on the country's government to commit to sending a vessel, after 400 refugees were killed when their ship capsized off the Libyan coast. 
 
“We should initially send a rescue vessel. We know that with one ship alone we can save several thousand people,” Tuva Raanes Bogsnes, the NRC's communications director, told TV2 before Monday's announcement. “How many people have to die before the government decides to send a ship? It is urgent. Norway is a coastal nation, and we know about sea rescue.”
 
This weekend, a further 700 migrants were feared drowned after their packed boat capsized off Libya in what may be the deadliest such disaster to date in the Mediterranean,  prompting Pope Francis to make a fresh appeal to European Union leaders to act to stem the loss of life off Italy's southern shores.
 
"They are men and women like us," he said in his weekly address to the Roman Catholic faithful in St Peter's square.
 
Last year alone, an estimated 3,000 people drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, with the number expected to be even higher this tear, as refugees from civil wars in Syria and Yemen attempt the treacherous journey on overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.
 
Italy vowed to increase its rescue capabilities after the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy in 2013, when 368 refugees died.
 
The country's Mare Nostrum operation was launched to tackle human trafficking and the humanitarian emergency at sea.
 
The well-funded mission brought 330 people smugglers to justice, and rescued 150,810 migrants.
 
But it was brought to an end in August 2014, due to the high cost and fears that it created a “pull factor” encouraging refugees to attempt the crossing. 
 
According to UNHCR, the death rate among refugees on the Mediterranean has increased 50-fold since the operation was wound up. 
 
The Italian operation has now been replaced by a much smaller European rescue mission, Frontex Plus. 
 
Bognsnes claims that the Italians are calling for other European states to come to their aid in rescuing migrants.
 
“The Italians have been clear: they cannot handle this situation alone. They are asking for a larger European commitment, and we are saying that Europe should assist, and that includes Norway,” she told TV2
 
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