MESSINA, ITALY - Nearly 900 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were brought to southern Italy Tuesday, days after being rescued in the Mediterranean by European naval forces.
A Norwegian ship, Siem Pilot, brought about 240 mostly Eritrean migrants to Messina harbor in Sicily early in the day.
Late in the afternoon, the British Navy ship Enterprise brought more than 650 migrants, again mostly Eritrean, to Catania harbor in Sicily.
EU officials told VOA that the migrants were saved after making distress calls to Italian authorities shortly after their vessels left the Libyan coast. Most of the passengers were men, but women and children were on board as well.
The Italian Red Cross, Save the Children and other aid organizations were at the docks to assist and check the health of the migrants before they were registered and boarded buses.
A VOA reporter, given access to the Norwegian ship, said the migrants looked tired but delighted that they arrived safely on European soil.
They are part of an unprecedented wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from troubled countries in Africa or the Middle East. The U.N. refugee agency said last week that it expects more than 700,000 people to reach Europe via the Mediterranean by the end of this year.
Eritreans to Sweden
Meanwhile, the EU later this week is expected to begin relocating refugees from overburdened countries such as Italy and Greece to other EU nations.
Speaking to reporters in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Tuesday that the first group, composed of Eritreans, will be flown to Sweden on Friday.
The group is the first of about 40,000 people the EU plans to relocate over the next two years.