Five boats carrying some 1,500 migrants have been rescued by the Italian coastguard as they attempted the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. The rescue effort was the second of its kind in 24 hours.
On Sunday, the Italian coastguard confirmed that four of their vessels and an Italian navy ship had on Saturday saved three large boats off the Libyan coast that were carrying migrants. The Italian vessels were able to rescue the migrant boats after intercepting distress calls from satellite telephones. On doing so, authorities also found two other migrants boats in difficulty nearby.
Later on Sunday, the migrants were transferred to the island of Lampedusa and the Sicilian ports of Augusta and Porto Empedocle.
In a separate incident on Saturday, 318 migrants were rescued by an Icelandic navy ship off Libya and taken to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. The Icelandic vessel had been taking part in a patrol for the EU borders agency Frontex. Authorities said the migrants included 14 children and five pregnant women.
According to Frontex, the number of migrants entering the EU illegally almost tripled last year. Of the nearly 170,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Italy in 2014, more than 3,200 lost their lives trying to reach Europe - often in flimsy boats.
During the first two months of this year, arrivals were up 43 percent versus the same period last year, officials have said.
Conflict and poverty
Unrest in Libya has sparked a rise in migrant boats setting out for Europe from its unpoliced ports. Refugees are fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
EU member states are reportedly planning to stop refugees in North Africa from crossing the Mediterranean into the EU by creating detention centers and stepping up the coast guard capabilities of countries like Tunisia and Egypt. The concept, introduced by Italy, has thus far been agreed upon by Germany, Spain and France.
ksb/gsw (AFP, Reuters)