Thousands of migrants saved from certain death by the Italian coastguard

More than 2,000 migrants were rescued by the Italian coastguard at the weekend. Credit: Reuters

They arrived in the dark. Cold, wet and utterly disorientated. Men and women who would almost certainly be dead had it not been for the Italian coastguard.

People who had paid thousands to escape violence and poverty in the Middle East and Africa only to find themselves herded onto small rubber boats and sent out to sea.

The big ships they had expected to make their journey on no more than a myth perpetuated by those who make their fortunes offering the desperate a route to a Europe.

For hours, 40 miles off the Libyan coast, they had been thrown around in medium size dingeys by metre high waves.

Little wonder they looked hollow-eyed and traumatised as they set foot on Italian land. No great moment of joy on arrival in Europe - from some just a simple question to those who helped them ashore, "What country are we in?"

Some were so weak they had to be stretchered away, others were clearly pregnant.

Now they will be housed by the Italians - a country that can ill-afford to provide for the thousands who are arriving on their shores.

What Italy is doing for these people is humbling - yet it is doing it pretty much alone.

Some European nations have refused to pay for the search and rescue force. Credit: Reuters

Other European nations have refused to pay for the Naval search and rescue force Italy was providing so it is down to the coastguard to pull who they can from the water.

The public justification from the UK and others for withdrawing financial support is that if migrants didn't believe they would be saved they wouldn't make the journey in the first place.

The figures expose the fallacy of that claim.

Some 2,164 have been rescued this weekend alone and overall arrivals have increased 60% on this time last year.

But it's not just the rescues that have gone up. So too have the deaths. At least 450 so far this year, compared to 36 in the first two months of last year.

On Saturday morning in a cold, rainy Sicilian graveyard we saw the dreadful reality of that.

Three unmarked coffins containing the bodies of three migrants. Credit: ITV News/Emma Murphy

Three unmarked coffins containing the bodies of two men and a woman being blessed by a local priest.

No-one knows, nor ever will know, who they are and they will be buried in unmarked graves.

Somewhere, most likely in sub-Saharan Africa, their familes wait to hear how their new life is going.

They will never hear from them now and will never know how or where their journey ended.