Italian navy and coastguard vessels have rescued around 1,800
more people from boats in rough seas off Sicily, authorities
said, as the chronic migrant crisis continued around the
More than 20,000 migrants have arrived by sea in Italy though
North Africa and the Middle East so far this year, adding to
a movement of people which has intensified since the "Arab
Spring" upheavals of 2011 and the civil war in Syria.
The Italian navy said a coastguard patrol aircraft spotted
several boats in difficulty in the waters between Sicily and
Tunisia on Thursday and a number of military and coastguard
vessels went to the scene, as well as two civilian tugboats.
The latest arrivals come on top of more than 1,000 migrants
picked up earlier in the week.
Italy has struggled for decades with a steady stream of
migrants looking for a better life in Europe travelling in
small, unsafe boats from North Africa to the tiny island of
Lampedusa, midway between Tunisia and Sicily.
But the problem has ballooned since the breakdown of order in
Libya opened up new opportunities for people-smugglers.
Italy set up a special marine task force dubbed Mare Nostrum
last year after hundreds of people were drowned in two
disasters near Lampedusa and has appealed for more help from
the European Union to handle the arrivals.
With the approach of European parliamentary elections in May,
the long-running emergency has gained increasing political
prominence with the anti-immigration Northern League calling
for the suspension of Mare Nostrum.