Governmental and non-governmental rescue ships have plucked nearly 1,800 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea since Thursday, bringing the number of refugees who have landed in Italy since the start of the year to more than 30,000 - a slight increase from last year.
Many of the boats cast off from Libya and were found during rescue operations coordinated by the Italian Navy in conjunction with Frontex, the European Union's border agency, and Doctors Without Borders, a non-governmental organization.
Since the beginning of 2015 more than 1.2 million migrants - the vast majority of them asylum-seekers from war-torn, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - have sought refuge in Europe.
Most of them entered via the short but perilous boat trip from Turkey to Greece. But that route has largely been closed since the EU and Turkey reached a deal in March aimed at keeping refugees in Turkey in exchange for at least 3 billion euros and the chance for Turks to travel to the EU without requiring a visa - if Ankara meets a set of conditions determined by the 28-member bloc.
Migrant fears unfounded
An uptick in migrants trying to reach the EU from Libya is likely to raise concerns in Europe. But experts say such fears are unfounded as the migrants locked out of the EU via Turkey will be hard-pressed to make their way to Libya.
Indeed, most of the migrants setting off for Italy from North Africa are from sub-Saharan African countries such as Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
Most of the migrants trying to reach Italy leave the coast of Libya on rickety fishing boats or in rubber dinghies, bound for the island of Lampedusa, which is close to Tunisia. Alternatively they try to reach Sicily.
An Italian navy boat, with 698 migrants on board, is expected to arrive at the Italian port of Augusta, on Sicily's east coast, on Saturday morning. The nationalities of those on-board have not been disclosed.
On Wednesday, however, Italy's coastguard said it had rescued 42 migrants from a sailboat off the coast of Puglia - the southeastern heel of Italy's ‘boot.'
bik/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)