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Thousands of migrants rescued off Italy

Over a thousand people rescued off the island of Lampedusa in the second such operation in two days.

Last updated: 07 Jun 2014 14:28
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More than 62,0000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far in 2014 [Reuters]

The Italian coastguard has rescued more than 1,000 migrants from three separate boats in the second such operation in two days, officials said.

The migrants, thought to be asylum seekers, were plucked from three boats early on Saturday some 74km off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to the coast guard.

Reports also said that over a hundred more migrants were rescued by the army in neighbouring Malta.  

The rescue came a day after the Italian navy picked up another 2,500 asylum-seekers from 17 boats, as good weather conditions in the Mediterranean further boost the influx of migrants desperate to reach Europe.

Most of the asylum seekers arriving in Italy come from Eritrea or Syria.

Many also come from impoverished parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Thousands have died in tragedies at sea in recent years because they often cross in rickety fishing boats that are badly overcrowded to maximise profits for traffickers.

Italy set up Europe's biggest-ever search and rescue mission - called Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea" - almost eight months ago after 366 migrants fleeing African countries drowned when their boat capsized a mile from Sicily.

In the earlier mission on Friday, the Mare Nostrum flagship, San Giorgio, took aboard 998 migrants, including 214 women and 157 children, from five different vessels.

Migrant influx

More than 62,0000 migrants arrived in Italy this year alone, topping the over 40,000 who came during all of 2013.

Italy has repeatedly asked for more European Union countries to join the effort to stem the influx along one of the most popular migrant routes between Africa and Europe, but so far only Slovenia has chipped in, offering one ship late last year.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last week urged the United Nations to intervene in Libya, where criminal gangs charge migrants more than $1,000 each for a spot on unsafe vessels, to try to limit the departures.

On Thursday, Libya's coastguard picked up 114 immigrants, mostly from Senegal, in its waters to the west of Tripoli as they were trying to cross to Europe in a small boat.

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