Italy rescues more than 1,100 migrants south of Sicily

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.

Rescue operation comes months after 2 shipwrecks claimed lives of nearly 600 migrants

A member of the Italian navy looks on during an operation to rescue rafts crowded with migrants in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily on Wednesday. (Navi della Marina Militare)

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 on Wednesday and four navy vessels participated in the rescue which ended early on Thursday, a statement said. The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants.

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants, and 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.

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