ROME (Reuters) - Seventy Afghan and Iraqi migrants were rescued from a packed boat off the southeastern coast of Italy and brought to shore on Sunday, Italy’s coast guard said.
Italy closed down a specialized naval mission to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean last year, but continues to bear the brunt of the rescues as the European Union and member states conduct talks on how to deal with the influx.
Two Italian coast guard cutters brought the group to the port of Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia. There were two women and four minors on board, the coast guard said in a statement.
Refugees escaping war and persecution and economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East have poured into Italy this year. Lawlessness in Libya gives traffickers a free hand to pack people into boats.
But the journey is highly dangerous: on Saturday five Tunisians died after their boat capsized while attempting the crossing, and last month around 800 people drowned in the worst such disaster in recent history.
The United Nations refugee agency said approximately 35,500 migrants arrived in Italy by sea between the start of the year and the first week in May.
Arrivals in Greece, Spain and Malta bring the total number of migrants known to have crossed the Mediterranean in that period to 62,500.
The number of dead or missing so far this year is about 1,800 versus 3,500 during all of last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky