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1,000 Migrants Rescued from Overcrowded Skiffs

  • VOA News

FILE - Migrants wait to disembark from a tug boat after being rescued in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, southern Italy, Feb. 17, 2015.

FILE - Migrants wait to disembark from a tug boat after being rescued in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, southern Italy, Feb. 17, 2015.

Italian navy and merchant ships rescued a group of almost 1,000 migrants from three overcrowded boats about 48 kilometers from the coast of Libya.

One person died before the rescue workers reached the boats.

The migrants sent a distress call by phone Friday and were being taken to the island of Lampedusa, following rescue operations conducted into Saturday.

In a dawn operation on Saturday, two Albanians, ages 28 and 42, were arrested after police identified them as the smugglers in charge of a boat carrying 37 would-be Syrian and Kurdish migrants, including five women.

Many asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, mostly from conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East and Africa have attempted to reach Western Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and many have died during such hazardous voyages.

This year, Italy has received over 12,000 migrants arriving on its shores, a slight drop in the number of migrants recorded during the first three months in 2014.

The Italian Ministry of Interior has confirmed that most were from six countries: Gambia (1,413), Senegal (1,187), Somalia (1,107), Syria (1,056), Mali (991), and Eritrea (906). These nationalities were also among the top 10 this time last year.

According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 480 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, most often because of bad weather and overcrowded, poorly maintained vessels used by the smugglers. Fewer than 50 fatalities were reported by this time last year.

Around 3,500 are estimated to have drowned last year when more than 170,000 migrants managed to reach Italy by sea.

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