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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Italy rescues more than 1,100 migrants in rafts south of Sicily

Rescue from overcrowded rafts comes as seven die while trying to swim from Morocco to Spanish enclave of Ceuta

The Italian navy has rescued more than 1,100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily.

Patrol helicopters identified the overcrowded rafts about 120 miles south-east of Lampedusa on Wednesday and four navy vessels participated in the rescue which ended early on Thursday. The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants.

Meanwhile Moroccan authorities say emergency services have recovered the bodies of seven people who drowned after attempting to swim to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Authorities told the state news agency that at least 200 migrants tried to swim to the enclave, which is on a peninsula jutting out from the Moroccan shore.

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.

With two Spanish enclaves on its coast, Morocco is a magnet for immigrants from all over Africa seeking jobs in Europe.

Every month, hundreds of immigrants attempt to force their way into Ceuta, near the city of Tetouan, and Melilla to the east.

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. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds