Italy's navy rescues more than 1,100 migrants

Migrants rescued from nine inflatable boats off Lampedusa in joint operation with the Italian Coast Guard.

    The Italian navy has rescued more than 1,100 migrants after nine large rafts were spotted navigating towards Sicily.

    In a joint operation with the Italian Coast Guard, a navy helicopter spotted the first boat south of the island of Lampedusa, situated between the Tunisian coast and Italy, the AP news agency reported.

    The San Marco ship and the Italian Navy patrol vessel Vega were able to rescue 788 migrants, while the Italian Coast Guard rescued 335 migrants on the ninth rubber dinghy.

    A humanitarian and military operation organised by the Italian navy has been taking place since October 18, monitoring the sea around Lampedusa to avoid a recurrence of the tragedy that occurred on October 3, when more than 300 migrants drowned.

    Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants, and sea arrivals more than tripled in 2013 from the previous year, fuelled by the conflict in Syria and the strife in the Horn of Africa.

    In October, 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck near the shore of the Lampedusa, which is part of Italy. More than 200 people, mostly Syrians, died in another shipwreck a week later.

    Meanwhile, at least seven migrants, including a woman drowned while trying to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from a beach in neighbouring Morocco, the AFP news agency reported.

    The deaths come as Morocco struggles, under pressure from Spain, to limit the rising tide of sub-Saharan migrants heading to its northern shores in a desperate quest to reach mainland Europe.

    Over the past two decades, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean island of Malta have borne the brunt of migrant flows and have urged the EU to make a more robust and co-ordinated response.

    Each year, thousands of migrants attempt risky voyages across the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Europe in unseaworthy boats, with hundreds dying en route.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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