Jonah Hull reports on the massive refugee influx from northern Africa to Lampedusa

Hundreds of migrants believed to be fleeing conflict in northern Africa have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, coast guard officials have said.

The first boat, carrying 166 refugees, landed at around 0500GMT on Friday, and two others, carrying loads of 265 and 150 people, arrived later in the day.

A fourth vessel carrying around 200 people ran into trouble at sea but was rescued by a coastguard, while a fifth boat with an estimated 500 people on board was intercepted.

"By the end of the day around 2,000 migrants are expected to arrive on the island," Ignazio Accomando, from the National Institute for the Health of Migrants, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying.

"They are tired, worn out, dehydrated and with some bruises but overall there are no particularly grave health cases," he said.

The migrants are said to have departed from the Libyan coast for Lampedusa, but their nationalities were unclear.

Looking for asylum

Al Jazeera's Karl Stagno-Navarra, who's been observing the situation from Malta, said by late afternoon, six boats had arrived on the island, bringing a total of 1,300 refugees.

"Throughout these last hours, the Maltese and Italian navies have deployed air and sea assets because there have been new sightings of new boats," he said.

"It is evident now that there seems to be a major influx of refugees who are fleeing Libya and looking for asylum in Europe.

"This is a debate that is evolving in Europe; all the EU states have been discussing how measures can be adopted so that Euro borders will be secure.

"Now, the humanitarian organisations are saying listen, these are not economic migrants but they are fleeing from war and have a right for asylum so a solution must be found."

'Accept the burden'

Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, has borne the arrival of thousands of migrants, fleeing the unrest in northern Africa, over past few weeks.

The Italian government, which has made cracking down on illegal immigration a priority, has declared the recent wave of immigrants a humanitarian emergency and warned that hundreds of thousands more north Africans could flee to Italy.

"Yesterday in Brussels, the Maltese and Italians were expecting the rest of the European states to come forward and accept a burden sharing principle in which they would take a number of migrants, so that they would be resettled to different countries around Europe," Al Jazeera's Stagno-Navarra said.

"However, only a minor number of migrants have been accepted by the member states and also with a little bit of input from non-EU states including Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Norway."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies