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Italy rescues 1,600 boat migrants over weekend

AFP , Sunday 29 Jun 2014
Sicily
A boat filled with migrants receives aid from Italian Navy ships off the coast of Sicily, Italy, Saturday, June 14, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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More than 1,600 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy and coast guard this weekend, authorities said Sunday, as the annual arrivals toll crept towards a record high.

Seven boats, many of them carrying children, were intercepted in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday, bringing the total number of migrants arriving on Italian shores this year to above 60,000.

The number is expected to soar past the record 63,000 set in 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings.

Some experts even believe the number could reach 100,000, with warm weather encouraging migrants from north Africa, and particularly from Libya, to make the crossing.

Italy has long borne the brunt of migrants making the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe, but EU border agency Frontex says there has been a significant rise in numbers in recent months.

The last few weeks have seen a series of tragedies with ten people drowning and 39 having to be rescued after the boat they were travelling in sank off the Libyan coast earlier in June.

A few days before that, three migrants travelling in an inflatable dinghy drowned off the Italian coast, while four migrants from the Central African Republic died after falling from a rope ladder between boats.

After two boating tragedies last year killed more than 400 people, Rome launched a special operation, "Mare Nostrum" in which its navy sweeps the seas for people in trouble.

But Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano has called for the operation to become a European initiative amid reports that there were thousands of migrants in Libya waiting to make the trip in the next few weeks.

The charity Save the Children said last week that over 9,000 of those who have made the journey so far this year are children, some of them younger than five years old. It warned that as many as a third of the children had travelled alone.

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