Europe

Italy rescues child migrants from seas as concern grows

Italian sailors approach a boat carrying migrants off Sicily, 20 May Image copyright Marina Militare
Image caption The rescue operation off Sicily

The Italian navy has rescued nearly 1,000 illegal migrants from the seas off southern Italy inside two days, with 170 children among them.

In the latest rescue, 462 migrants including 37 children and 148 women were rescued off Lampedusa.

On Monday, 488 migrants including 133 children and 62 women were found off Capo Passero in Sicily.

The number of unaccompanied minors arriving this year has alarmed the Save the Children charity.

While most children under 10 who arrive in Italy are with families, many adolescents are travelling alone and Save the Children says there are not adequate facilities to accommodate and protect them.

There has been a huge increase in migrant numbers. Italy has taken in at least 26,644 so far this year compared with 3,362 during the same period last year, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The number of people detected trying to enter the EU illegally last year rose by nearly half on 2012, with nearly one in four from Syria, the EU's frontiers agency reported last week.

Syrians

Many of those rescued this week are believed to be Syrians, fleeing the civil war at home. Others come from Egypt and Bangladesh.

Image copyright Marina Militare
Image caption The rescue operation off Lampedusa

On Tuesday, the Italian patrol boat San Giorgio found and assisted the boat carrying 462 migrants off Lampedusa, and is due to transfer them to the Italian coastguards, the navy told the BBC News website.

On Monday, two fishing boats packed with migrants were spotted by a navy helicopter off Sicily and two navy ships, the frigate Grecale and patrol ship Foscari, moved in to rescue them.

That operation was hampered by rough seas and did not end until Tuesday morning.

Typically, the migrants, fleeing conflict or poverty, are trafficked from ports in Libya aboard unseaworthy boats.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has warned his country will defy EU asylum rules if it does not get more help to patrol its maritime borders.

"We'll just let them go," he said, referring to an EU agreement that migrants must remain in the country in which they arrive until their status as refugees is decided.

Major routes for clandestine migration to the EU

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