Written by Kumudu Jayawardana
06 Feb, 2014 | 5:08 pm
Italy’s navy has rescued 1,123 people from inflatable boats in the space of 24 hours, as clandestine migration from North Africa reaches record levels.
The latest migrants were found in eight boats and a barge about 120 miles (222km) south-east of Lampedusa.
Local officials say the bodies of six men and a woman were found on a beach in neighbouring Morocco. They were all from sub-Saharan Africa, the Spanish news agency Efe reports.
Some 2,000 migrants landed on Italian shores last month, nearly 10 times the number recorded in January 2013.
According to the government, last year saw an “incessant and massive influx of migrants” with a total of 42,925 arrivals by sea, or more than three times as many as in 2012.
The true number of migrants who died attempting the perilous crossing is unknown but in October more than 400 people drowned in two shipwrecks near Lampedusa, the closest Italian territory to North Africa.
Wednesday saw better than usual weather conditions for the time of year.
Navy ships and helicopters began the rescue at 08:00 (07:00 GMT), continuing after darkness fell.
The migrants were put aboard an amphibious assault ship, the San Marco, and are due to arrive at the Sicilian port of Augusta on Friday morning.
Once in Italy, the migrants will be assessed to see if they have legitimate grounds for claiming asylum.
They have to satisfy the authorities that they are fleeing persecution and would face harm or even death if sent back to their country of origin.
Nearly three out of four asylum applications in EU states were rejected in 2012.
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