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Thousands of migrants saved from Mediterranean Sea over Easter weekend

The Italian coast guard and NGOs have saved thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean over Easter weekend. The EU is concerned smugglers will use better weather and instability in Libya to send more migrants.

About 8,300 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean over Easter weekend, as smugglers took advantage of calm seas and better weather to launch boats to Europe. 

The EU border agency Frontex saved more than 1,400 migrants in 13 rescue operations, while private humanitarian organizations were involved in the remainder in coordination with the Italian navy. 

Carlotta Sami, the UN refugee agency's spokesperson, said seven people died, including one pregnant woman, over three days. 

The migrants, mostly Africans making their way in unseaworthy boats from Libya, were taken to Italy for processing. 

The EU border control agency Frontex has accused non-government groups rescuing migrants of acting "like taxis." Italian prosecutors have suggested the non-government affiliated groups have links to traffickers, a claim the groups have strongly denied.

More than 24,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy over the first three months of 2017, many more than the 18,000 people who crossed during the same time period in 2016, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

After closing off the Balkan route to migrants and slowing crossings from Turkey to Greece last year, European governments are increasingly concerned about a new wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, a lawless country with a long coastline controlled by both rebel and government factions. 

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa fleeing war and poverty have created an opportunity for smugglers, who calculate migrants will be picked up by rescue boats after entering international waters 12 nautical miles off Libya's coast. In many cases, the rescue calls come directly from unseaworthy boats. 

The International Organization for Migration says nearly 800 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the first three months of 2017. More than 5,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016.

cw/kbd/jm (AFP, dpa)

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