On summer days when those of us lucky enough to have settled lives or the means to take a holiday in the sunshine are likely to head for a sea which we regard as friendly, thousands of people are heading for the Libyan coast for quite different reasons and will attempt to make an extremely dangerous journey across the same sea in the hope of reaching Europe. In the nine years that I have been writing about migration in the Mediterranean, these attempts have always increased in summer, but this year there will be more than ever, as people who feel they have no choice flee not only poverty, hunger and hopelessness, but violence, abduction, persecution and war.
Between May 29th and June 2nd 5,000 such people were saved in the Mediterranean and sadly, the Italian Coast Guard found 17 dead bodies on three separate migrant boats that weekend. There is as yet no information on how these migrants might have died. Another 5,851 people were saved last weekend, 2,000 of these in the Sicilian Channel on June 6th alone. Irish, Italian and German naval ships participated in the rescues, as did Mr and Mrs Christopher Catrambone, the American couple who are on a humanitarian mission in their own boat in the Mediterranean.
Another 15 ships, including the British naval vessel HMS Bulwark, rescued around 3,000 more people. The Bulwark at one point had the British Defence Minister Michael Fallon aboard and he was clearly shocked by what he saw. Mr Fallon called upon the navies of more countries to join in the search and rescue missions and also said that the migration problem should be tackled "at its roots". He did not say what he perceived those "roots" to be or suggest how this could be done and I found this statement from a representative of the government of my own country, which has refused to take a migrant quota, quite staggering in its hypocrisy.
Today 1,400 of the migrants rescued at the weekend were brought to Sicily and UNHCR estimates that 46,000 have arrived in Italy in 2015. Therefore it is no surprise that Italians are unimpressed by the attitudes of Britain and of France and Germany, who are also objecting to migrant quotas. Meanwhile, in Northern Italy the Governors of Lombardy, Liguria and the Veneto are refusing to take more migrants - many are transferred to other regions after being processed in Sicily - and the Lega Nord is saying that it will have its representaives physically stop any buses bringing more migrants to the Emilia-Romagna if the government does not stop sending them. In view of the intransigence of some other European states with regard to migrant quotas, one can perhaps understand, though not condone, this stance.
Europe may be cooperating on search and rescue but it has a long way to go on helping the migrants once they are here. Such a perilous journey and what a cold welcome at the end of it!