More migrants reach Italy as government prepares to boost sea patrols

Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:46am EDT
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By Roberto Landucci and Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - A migrant boat carrying 137 people reached Italy from North Africa on Monday as the Italian government prepared to launch new naval and air patrols to prevent repeats of shipwrecks which have drowned hundreds of Africans this month alone.

The boat docked early on Monday in the port of the southern island of Lampedusa and the migrants, mostly Syrians, were in good condition, a coastguard spokesman said.

Separately, more than 200 migrants arrived in ports in eastern Sicily after being rescued on Sunday by an Italian merchant ship and by a coastguard cutter.

The new arrivals follow the deaths of more than 350 people, mostly Somalis and Eritreans, in a shipwreck in the area on October 3. Last Friday, at least 34 more migrants drowned when their boat capsized, though the true figure may be above 200.

Lampedusa, which lies southwest of Sicily and just 70 miles from the coast of Tunisia, has been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe for two decades.

Now the Syrian civil war and unrest in Egypt and other Arab and African countries are fuelling the flow of refugees, many of whom have had to pass through an increasingly unstable Libya.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government was due on Monday to endorse plans to ramp up its surveillance capacity in the Mediterranean this week to try to prevent more tragedies.

Defence Minister Mario Mauro said on Sunday Italy would triple its presence in the area. Some newspapers said unmanned drone aircraft based in Sicily could be used to identify the flimsy and overcrowded migrant vessels.   Continued...