* Over 100,000 boat migrants have arrived this year
* Deaths add to toll from Friday's shipwreck near Libya
* Migration boosts anti-immigrant party in Italy
(Adds interior minister, EU commissioner comments, plans to
meet, higher death toll from shipwreck off Libya)
ROME, Aug 24 Italy's maritime search and rescue
service saved 3,500 migrants and found 19 corpses in the
Mediterranean since Friday as thousands attempted to cross to
Europe by boat over the weekend, the Italian navy said.
Calmer summer seas have led more people to make the perilous
crossing this year from North Africa, where a breakdown of order
in Libya has been exploited by human traffickers, pushing the
number of arrivals into Italy since January past 100,000.
The Italian ship Sirio recovered 18 corpses and 73 survivors
from a raft, the navy said on Twitter on Sunday, after a frigate
picked up one corpse along with 1372 survivors on Friday night.
The deaths were reported shortly after a boat carrying
migrants sank off the Libyan coast on Friday. The Libyan coast
guard originally estimated the boat had held 150-200 people, but
an official said on Sunday further checks showed it was bigger
than first thought, and more than 250 migrants may have died.
The Mare Nostrum search and rescue mission began after a
shipwreck near Italy's coast killed 366 people last October. The
UN refugee agency said around 500 migrants had died in the
Mediterranean between January and July this year.
The mission costs around 9 million euros ($11.92 million) a
month and has sparked fierce debate in Italy, which slipped back
into recession in the second quarter after years of stagnation.
The flood of migrants has helped revive support for Italy's
anti-immigration Northern League party, whose leader Matteo
Salvini is an outspoken critic of Mare Nostrum. Salvini wrote
"Stop the Invasion" on his Facebook page on Sunday.
Interior minister Angelino Alfano said in an interview with
the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Sunday that Mare Nostrum
was intended to be a temporary measure which could not continue
until the second anniversary of the October shipwreck, and
voiced concern over the Northern League's vociferous opposition.
"Either Europe takes responsibility or Italy will have to
make its own decisions. Sadly, Salvini's words show that in
Italy an ugly extreme right wing is being born," Corriere quoted
Alfano as saying.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a
statement later on Sunday that she would meet Alfano in Brussels
next Wednesday "to better define priorities and provide
At the frontier between Europe and Africa, Italy has long
attracted sea-borne migrants, but the number of arrivals this
year is already above a previous record of just over 60,000 for
all of 2011, when the Arab Spring uprisings fuelled migration.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called on the
European Union to take responsibility for rescuing migrants by
investing in border control agency Frontex, and on the United
Nations to intervene in Libya to manage the flows of refugees.
(1 US dollar = 0.7552 euro)
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and