ROME (Reuters) - At least 10 North African migrants died when their rubber boat overturned in the southern Mediterranean while more than a thousand more were rescued from eight other vessels over Tuesday and Wednesday, Italian and Tunisian authorities said.
The survivors were taken to ports in Italy — part of a growing surge of people risking the dangerous journey to flee poverty, civil war in Syria, military conscription in Eritrea, anarchy in Libya and other conflict zones.
The Italian coast guard said one of its ships had rescued 121 people after their boat capsized on Tuesday about 50 miles north of Libya. Ten bodies were recovered.
Several merchant ships helped the coast guard rescue hundreds from six other boats on Tuesday, and from a seventh on Wednesday.
Tunisia’s navy rescued all 81 migrants on a boat that had started taking on water near the Tunisian island of Djerba on Tuesday night, the country’s defence ministry said.
Between Tunisian and Italian authorities, about 1,100 migrants were brought to safety, including 30 children and 50 women, one of them pregnant.
Authorities said they were mostly Syrians, Palestinians, Tunisians, Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans.
The number of boat arriving in Italy this year is already outpacing a record set in 2014, with 7,882 counted during the first two months of 2015, a 43 percent increase on the same period a year earlier, according to the Interior Ministry.
The U.N. refugee organisation UNHCR says at least 218,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean by boat in 2014 and 3,500 lives were lost.
The surging numbers prompted Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to renew calls for the European Union to do more to help Italy handle the massive immigration flows.
The leader of Italy’s opposition anti-immigration Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, accused Rome and Brussels on Twitter of “having blood on their hands”, saying rescue efforts encouraged migrants to make the dangerous crossing.
Italy ended its large-scale search-and-rescue mission Mare Nostrum last year partly because of the cost.
It has been replaced by an EU border control mission, Triton, that does not have a specific search-and-rescue mandate and which has fewer ships and a much smaller area of operation hugging tightly to the Italian coast.
Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome and Tarek Amara in Tunis; Editing by Andrew Heavens