Print options

October 25, 2013

More Than 700 Migrants Rescued Near Italy

by VOA News

Italian and Maltese patrol teams have rescued more than 700 migrants in a series of operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italian officials say the rescues took place late Thursday and Friday after patrols intercepted at least five boats packed with migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The rescues occurred as European Union leaders at a summit in Brussels grappled with the issue of illegal immigration.

Leaders from the southern European nations that have been most affected by the influx of refugees pressed the EU for emergency action and to share more of the burden of dealing with refugees.

EU leaders, however, failed to take any immediate action.

Instead, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the leaders expected to discuss the findings of an EU migration task force at their next summit in December.

"We all agree it's urgent to examine what more can be done. And that's why we asked the newly established Task Force for the Mediterranean led by the European Commission with member states or diplomatic service and agencies. We will ask to come up quickly with concrete operational proposals for a more efficient use of European policies and tools," said Van Rompuy.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said that while no new steps were proposed at the EU summit, the southern states had succeeded in raising awareness about the migration issue.

"We reached important agreements, first of all on the raising of the topic at the top level of the European agenda, that was for us very important," said Letta.

Earlier this month, Italy began stepping up patrols in the region after a boat filled with migrants sank near Lampedusa, killing at least 359 people. It was one of the deadliest maritime accidents in the Mediterranean.

Investigators said most of the passengers on board the ship that sank were from Eritrea or Somalia. Lampedusa is closer to continental Africa than the Italian mainland. It is often the destination for boats full of migrants seeking entrance to the European Union.

The United Nations refugee agency estimates 32,000 migrants have arrived this year in Italy and Malta.

Authorities say worsening humanitarian conditions in the Horn of Africa and Syria have spurred a surge in refugees fleeing to Europe.