Italy migrant rescues hit 12 500 in four days

5-day-old twins from Eritrea, who were born prematurely in Libya (AP).
5-day-old twins from Eritrea, who were born prematurely in Libya (AP).

Rome - Three corpses were recovered as 1 800 migrants were rescued off Libya on Wednesday, taking the total number of people saved since Sunday to nearly 12 500, Italy's coastguard said.

The three dead bodies were recovered from a stricken rubber dinghy by Malta-based NGO MOAS, whose boat the Phoenix rescued a total of 410 people during the day.

Italian navy and coastguard boats were also in action along with a merchant tugboat that happened to be in the area.

Despite the surge in numbers this week, migrant arrivals in Italy are running slightly below last year's levels.

According to Interior Ministry figures, a total of 112 097 people had landed at Italian ports by Wednesday morning, compared with 116 149 for the same period in 2015.

Thousands more will be registered in the coming days, putting more pressure on Italy's already rammed reception centres.

Among those arriving on Wednesday was a three-month-old Nigerian baby girl who was born in Libya and baptised Noa Mary on an Italian navy boat on Tuesday.

Rear Admiral Alberto Maffeis, who acted as the little girl's godfather on board the Virginio Fasan frigate, told RaiNews her mother had asked the onboard chaplain to carry out the ceremony.

"It was like becoming a father again, I had a lump in my throat," he said.

Flavio di Giacomo, the Italy spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that despite this week's high numbers, the profile of departures from Libya remained similar to last year with regular spikes in numbers attributable to favourable weather conditions.

"What is astonishing is that there have been so few casualties thanks to the expertise of the rescuers," he said.

Di Giacomo said the new arrivals were manageable. "There is not a critical situation on the Italian side, the system of reception and identification is working smoothly."

Italy is however having to house ever greater numbers of would-be refugees as its neighbours to the north move to tighten their borders and make it harder for migrants to travel to their preferred destinations in northern Europe.

According to the Interior Ministry, Italy now has 148 000 asylum seekers in reception centres, compared with 103 000 in 2015 and 66 000 in 2014.

The Greek coastguard said on Wednesday it rescued roughly 30 migrants on a stricken vessel as they attempted to reach Italy.

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