Coastguard rescues 139 migrants off Italian coast

ROME Sat May 11, 2013 3:13pm EDT

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian coastguards picked up 139 people in two inflatable boats off the southern coast of Sicily, authorities said on Saturday, the latest in a series of arrivals of clandestine immigrants.

Hundreds of migrants, most from Africa, have been rescued in small, flimsy vessels while crossing to Italy since the start of the year, with numbers increasing since the beginning of spring.

The occupants of the two boats rescued in the latest incident were taken to Lampedusa, the tiny island off the coast of Sicily which has borne the brunt of the seaborne migration into southern Europe from North Africa.

An estimated 1,500 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, according to Human Rights Watch. It estimated the death toll in 2012 at more than 300.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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