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Italian Navy rescues 1,000 migrants off southern-most coast

Latest operation comes after 2,100 people saved earlier in week

20 March, 13:12
Italian Navy rescues 1,000 migrants off southern-most coast (ANSA) - Rome, March 20 - Navy ships rescued approximately 1,000 migrants in rickety boats off Italy's southern coast in less than 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday, official sources said.

The rescue operation came after more than 2,100 migrants were rescued earlier in the week by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard vessels, as they fled North African across the Channel of Sicily.

The operations were made through the Mare Nostrum task force established last autumn to try to prevent migrant deaths in waters off Italy.

The task force was triggered by the deaths of around 400 people in two separate migrant-boat disasters in October near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which is often the migrants' first port of call.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has called the operations "an example to follow also in other countries".

Before this week's rescues, Mare Nostrum reported saving a total of 12,228 people and capturing 46 alleged human traffickers.

The air and naval operation Mare Nostrum (Latin for 'our sea', as the Mediterranean was called by ancient Romans) was established as a military and humanitarian operation aimed to strengthen surveillance and rescue forces at sea.

It makes use of amphibious ships, unmanned drones and helicopters with infrared equipment in its search-and-rescue missions.

Tens of thousands of migrants arrive in Italy from North Africa every year and many others die attempting the crossing in often rickety vessels.

Boat arrivals in Italy more than tripled last year from the previous year, fuelled by the conflict in Syria and strife in the Horn of Africa.