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Italy rescues more than 1,100 African migrants at sea


The Italian navy has rescued more than 1,100 African migrants from several large rafts floating off the coast south of Sicily, a navy statement said Thursday.


Patrol helicopters detected the overcrowded rafts Wednesday and four navy vessels were dispatched in a rescue operation that ended early on Thursday, the statement said.

The navy offered no details about the migrants' nationalities but said they were likely from sub-Saharan Africa.

In a separate incident on Thursday, at least seven migrants drowned while trying to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from the Moroccan town of Fnideq, officials in both countries said, adding that hundreds of people had headed out to sea before dawn in an attempt to make the crossing.

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants, with arrivals by sea more than tripling in 2013 from the previous year, fuelled by Syria’s civil war and continuing strife in the Horn of Africa.

In October, 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck near the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is located about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso announced €30 million in funds to help Italy receive and settle refugees during a visit to Lampedusa soon after the tragedy. He also pledged funds to rebuild Italian refugee centres and called on Europe to "step up" its coordinated response to increasing migration.

More than 200, mostly Syrians, died in another shipwreck a week later.

Italy increased patrols in the Mediterranean following the dual disasters.

Over the past two decades, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean island of Malta have borne the brunt of migrant flows and have urged the EU to come up with a more robust and coordinated response.



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