An Italian coast guard vessel arriving on Lampedusa | Photo: Elio Desiderio/ANSA via AP
An Italian coast guard vessel arriving on Lampedusa | Photo: Elio Desiderio/ANSA via AP

Stranded migrants have been rescued by the Italian navy and taken to Lampedusa and Malta. The UN refugee agency has airlifted migrants, including babies, from Libya to Rome.

The Italian navy said the lives of the 100 people it rescued on Thursday were in imminent danger because their boat's engine had failed as the weather worsened.

Few of the migrants had life jackets and they had made a distress call to "Alarm Phone" a rescue hotline run by volunteers with the German association "Watch the Med."

Italian Foreign Minister Matteo Salvini said they would be taken to the northern port city of Genoa.

A further 178 migrants were taken to the island of Lampedusa, the Italian territory closest to northern Africa.

Maltese navy finds migrants

The Maltese navy said 75 migrants found clinging to a tuna pen had also been rescued. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had spoken to them when they arrived in Malta "exhausted, hungry, and extremely relieved to be on land after three days at sea." The latest arrivals brought the total of people disembarked since the start of the year in Malta to 673, compared to just four for the same period in 2018.

Many hundreds of migrants still start the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from Libya but most are intercepted by the coast guard and returned to the North African state.The Ain Zara center for migrants in Tripoli | Photo: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

UNHCR airlift from Libya

The UNHCR airlifted 149 migrants, including children and babies from Libya to Rome on Thursday, removing them from the worsening conditions in Tripoli after two months of fighting. Many of them were malnourished and in need of medical treatment, the UN agency said.

"Due to the violent clashes and deteriorating security conditions in Tripoli, 149 refugees and vulnerable asylum seekers were evacuated and transferred to Rome," the UNHCR said.

Earlier this week, UNHCR evacuated 62 Syrians and Africans to Romania where they are being given medical treatment before going on to Norway.Migrants 30 nautical miles off the coast of Libya in May | Photo: picture-alliance/ROPI/Sea Watch/N. Jaussi

More refugees arriving

The UN said that over a thousand refugees and migrants had been evacuated from Libya this year but 1,200 others had been returned by the Libyan coast guard after being intercepted off the coast.

The UNHCR said that risks for refugees and migrants in Libya were rising, and that "new detainees are arriving at a faster pace than people are departing."

"More humanitarian evacuations are needed," UNHCR mission chief in Libya Jean-Paul Cavalieri said, adding that their only alternative was to put themselves "in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers on the Mediterranean Sea."

jm/rc (AFP, Reuters)

First published: May 30, 2019

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