The Italian coast guard and navy have intercepted hundreds of migrants from the central Mediterranean since Thursday. Meanwhile in Cyprus, authorities have rescued a large group of Syrian refugees heading for Europe.
Hundreds of migrants from North Africa have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea and brought to safety in Sicily over the past three days, Italian authorities confirmed on Sunday.
The first rescue mission began on Thursday, with the Italian coast guard intercepting 520 people from five different boats. Italian authorities had reportedly been responding to a distress call sent from a cell phone from one of the vessels, which was still in Libyan waters.
Another group of roughly 78 migrants was rescued by a merchant ship the same day.
Between Friday and Saturday, the Italian navy also rescued two separate dinghies, each carrying between 90 and 100 passengers, among them children and pregnant women. The vessels had disembarked from the Libyan capital of Tripoli and were intercepted between 50 and 100 kilometers (31 miles and 62 miles) from the Libyan coast.
Italy ended its search and rescue mission, dubbed "Mare Nostrum," in late October after saving the lives of more than 100,000 migrants in less than a year. The EU-led operation "Triton" took over the border control mission, which is only to carry out rescue operations if necessary.
The country started the sea rescue mission in 2013, after more than 360 African asylum seekers drowned when their overcrowded boat sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Rome subsequently spent 100 milion euros ($125 million) on the operations.
Cyprus rescues Syrian boat
Meanwhile on Sunday, authorities in Cyprus confirmed that over 220 refugees from Syria had been rescued off of its northern coast.
The passengers on board the Tanzanian-flagged boat were stranded at sea for several hours due to bad weather, preventing their rescue.
According to the Turkish Cypriot transport minsiter, Hasan Tacoy, the ship was intercepted late on Saturday. The migrants were then brought safely to the coastal town of Kyrenia in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where they received medical attention.
kms/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)