GENEVA - Italy's coast guard has rescued about 1,000 refugees and migrants off the country's southern tip, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
Thursday's rescue operation, one of the largest on the Mediterranean Sea, was coordinated by the European border management agency, Frontex. In one operation, the U.N. refugee agency said, some 500 people were rescued off Sicily, southeast of Cape Passero. It said the people crammed into two fishing boats had departed several days ago from Egypt.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said the nationalities of all the people were still not known, but that the Italian coast guard reported that Syrians and Iraqis were among the group.
“Apart from the two fishing boats that sailed from Egypt, it is believed that there were other smaller boats that came from Libya," Spindler said. Those rescued were disembarking at Catania, Palermo, Crotone, and Augusta in Sicily.
Spindler said UNHCR staff would be present at the different locations and provide information and assistance to those who had been rescued.
“It is clear just by our people on the ground [that] there are many families among those who have been rescued and there are many unaccompanied children," he said. "They need to go through medical screening. They need to get assistance. Many are dehydrated and in bad shape."
UNHCR says nearly 190,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. While most have gone to Greece, more than 31,250 have headed for Italy, and that group is growing.