Italian navy rescues hundreds of children on migrant boat

ROME Sat May 24, 2014 2:55pm EDT

ROME May 24 (Reuters) - An Italian navy patrol ship picked up a migrant boat coming from North Africa carrying 435 people including 264 children, most from Syria and Egypt, authorities said on Saturday.

The rescue, which occurred on Friday afternoon, is the latest in a seemingly endless succession as the chronic migrant crisis in the southern Mediterranean has picked up this year.

At least 34,800 people have crossed from North Africa to Europe so far this year, compared to 43,000 in the whole of 2013. That leaves the annual total set to surpass the 60,000 who made the trip in 2011 when the Arab Spring revolutions loosened border controls, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

The near daily arrivals of migrant boats has become an issue in the European parliamentary elections due to be wrapped up on Sunday with growing demands in Italy for more help from the European Union to confront the emergency. (Reporting by James Mackenzie, editing by David Evans)

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