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More than 3,000 migrants rescued at sea in 72 hours, says Italian coast guard

Italy's coast guard has confirmed that the number of migrants rescued in the past three days has reached more than 3,000. In Rome, authorities are still investigating the identity of a suspected kingpin.

On Saturday alone some 1,348 migrants were saved in 11 rescue operations between Sicily and North Africa, involving the European Union naval mission Eunavfor Med, the Malta-based NGO Moas, the Italian coast guard and a private tugboat.

Around 2,000 people were rescued on Thursday when the coast guard coordinated operations involving migrants travelling on 15 different boats.

Following the closure of the so-called Balkan route via Turkey and Greece, Italy has become the main entry point for migrants bound for Europe. Almost 50,000 have already come ashore in Italy this year, with the average number of daily arrivals surging from 176 in January to 643 in May.

According to the Italian Interior Ministry, however, that's about 10 percent less than during the same period in 2015.

Nearby Greece has seen the arrival of 158,757 migrants by sea since the beginning of the year. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found, however, that the influx has decreased, with the average daily landings falling from 2,056 in January to 47 in the last month.

Mistaken identity still under investigation

Also on Saturday, the lawyer of a migrant arrested on suspicion of being an Eritrean migrant smuggling kingpin has insisted that Italian authorities have the wrong man.

Italian prosecutors identified the man as Medhane Yehdego Mered, an alleged mastermind of a migrant smuggling ring that has shipped thousands of people from the Horn of Africa to Italy via Libya.

The man, who claims to actually be called Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, was brought to Italy from Sudan earlier this week under great fanfare.

Known as "The General," Mered has been on Europe's most-wanted list since 2015. If the arrest is confirmed, it would mark the first time that Italy has been able to nab a top human trafficker in Africa.

ksb/cmk (Reuters, dpa)

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