Italy rescues more than 400 migrants in 24 hours

ROME Sun Jan 12, 2014 11:36am EST

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ROME Jan 12 (Reuters) - The Italian navy rescued more than 400 migrants from two boats south of Sicily on Saturday and Sunday as the immigration crisis that killed hundreds in shipwrecks last year continued.

On Saturday afternoon, 236 men, women and children, mostly from Africa, were rescued and were being taken to a port near Syracuse in Sicily, the navy said in a statement.

Another boat carrying about 200 others was identified on Sunday morning and the rescue was under way in the afternoon, a separate statement said.

Italy is a major gateway into Europe for many migrants seeking a better life, and sea arrivals to the country from Northern Africa more than tripled in 2013, fuelled by Syria's civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa.

In October, 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck near the shore of the Italian island of Lampedusa, about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. More than 200, mostly Syrians, probably died in another shipwreck a week later.

Over the past two decades, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean island of Malta have borne the brunt of migrant flows and have urged the European Union make a more robust and coordinated response. (Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Andrew Roche)

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