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Migration

More than 1000 migrants rescued off Italy and Malta

Coastguards in Italy and Malta have rescued hundreds of more migrants from boats in the Mediterranean, after 2,500 were picked up a day before. Italian authorities are speaking of a growing and urgent crisis.

Nearly 1,200 migrants were rescued off the coasts of Italy and Malta in the early hours of Saturday, officials said.

The Italian coastguard said it plucked more than 1,000 migrants from three boats off the coast of the island of Lampedusa in the second such operation in two days.

In Malta, the army said it rescued 103 migrants from a dinghy that had deflated.

The rescue came a day after the Italian navy picked up another 2,500 asylum-seekers from 17 boats.

Good weather has boosted the number of boats trying to reach Europe from the coast of Africa, often in Libya, where criminal gangs organizing boat trips have flourished amid the breakdown of law and order in the country.

Most of the migrants come from Eritrea or Syria, with others fleeing impoverished parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Tenfold increase

On Friday, Italian officials said almost 47,000 people had arrived from North Africa by sea since the beginning of this year, a tenfold increase over the same period in 2013.

The mayor of Porto Empedocle, a town where the Italian navy and coast guard were expected to deliver 1,400 migrants, called the situation "radically out of control."

Mayor Lillo Firetto accused Italian and European Union officials of doing little to help cope with the crisis. Pleas from Rome for more help from its EU partners have so far met with a meager response.

Thousands of migrants have died at sea in recent years trying to reach Europe, as they often make the attempt in badly overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.

tj/pfd (dpa, AFP)

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