More than a thousand migrants rescued off Libya


About 1,400 migrants were plucked from over-crowded boats off the coast of Libya, Italy’s coastguard said, with two bodies recovered.

Vessels belonging to the Italian coastguard and finance police, the European Union anti-smuggling operation, Sophia, and ships run by humanitarian groups took part in 11 rescue operations, a statement said.

No details about the nationalities of the rescued were given, nor was there further information about the dead.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Europe via Italy after setting off in boats from North Africa over the last four years, it is unusual to see so many rescued on a single day during winter when the seas tend to be rough.

So far this year 974 migrants reached Italy by sea, down from 2,393 during the same period last year, the Interior Ministry said before the latest rescues.

Immigration is one of the hot-button issues ahead of a national election on March 4. The ruling Democratic Party points to a sharp fall in arrivals from Libya since July as proof it is now managing what before seemed an endless flow of migrant boats.

Arrivals fell by a third last year to 119,000 compared with a year earlier and tumbled by two thirds in the second half of the year. The declines came after a deal with the Tripoli government in February, which provided aid and training for the Libyans to fight people smuggling and to bolster the coastguard.

More than 20,000 are estimated to have died attempting the crossing to Italy in the past four years, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates, making it the deadliest border for migrants in the world.

The Northern League, a member of the centre-right coalition leading in polls ahead of the Italian vote, vowed to stop the migrant “invasion”.