Italy rescues more than 1,100 migrants in rafts south of Sicily

Thursday 06 February 2014 13.45
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The Italian navy rescued 233 migrants off Lampedusa in early January
The Italian navy rescued 233 migrants off Lampedusa in early January
Italian naval patrols search the waters off the coast of Sicily regularly for migrants
Italian naval patrols search the waters off the coast of Sicily regularly for migrants

The Italian navy has rescued more than 1,100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily, the latest arrivals from North Africa.

Patrol helicopters identified the overcrowded rafts yesterday and four navy vessels participated in the rescue, which ended early today, according to a statement.

The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants.

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants.

Sea arrivals more than tripled in 2013 from the previous year, fuelled by Syria's civil war and 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.

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

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 make a more robust and coordinated response.