Mussie Zerai Nobel Peace Prize
Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 4 OctoberGetty

An Eritrean Catholic priest living in Switzerland has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for alerting the Italian and Maltese coastguards to help migrants at sea after he receives calls from boats in distress.

Father Mussie Zerai gave his phone number to an African radio station in 2003 so that migrants from boats in distress could call him for help. Since then, his number has spread across refugee camps and detention centres and he has received hundreds of calls from migrants seeking help.

Zerai, who has been helping migrants since 1995, said during an interview with the BBC that the Nobel Prize could help him expand his work of advocacy to give voice to the voiceless. "It would help create awareness on what happens during the journey for thousands of refugees," he said. "In the past 10 years, I received lots of distress calls from many different places. I try to help save the lives of thousands of refugees who try to reach Europe."

In 2006, Zerai set up an organisation, Agenzia Habeshia, to help asylum seekers, refugees and beneficiaries of humanitarian protection in Italy. His nomination comes at a time when thousands of migrants have died at sea in one of the worst migrant crisis of recent years.

Almost 3,000 people have died in the Mediterranean sea since January, while some 533,000 successfully reached European shores, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The majority of people have drowned on the route from Libya to southern Italy, which involves a longer navigation in open seas than the shorter crossing from Turkey to Greece.

Most migrants come from war-torn countries such as Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. Others flee human rights abuses and repressive governments – such as Eritrean migrants – or cross to Europe with the hope of starting a better life.

The winner of this years' Nobel peace prize will be announced on Friday 9 October at 11am CET (10 am BST). Other nominees include Pope Francis and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The winners of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize were Indian child activist Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Sathyarti has been working to end child labour and has rescued thousands of children from slavery. Young Pakistani activist Yousafzai continues her work of advocacy to promote the right to education for children after she survived an assassination attempt by the Pakistani Taliban.