ROME Italian navy patrol ships rescued more than 3,500 migrants including hundreds of women and children from boats coming from North Africa, authorities said on Saturday, while Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for help from the European Union.
The rescues, which the coast guard said have been going on since Friday evening, are the latest in a seemingly endless succession as the chronic migrant crisis in the southern Mediterranean has picked up this year.
A total of 3,612 migrants from Syria and North Africa were picked up from 11 boats and taken to ports in Sicily and the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a coastguard spokesman told Reuters.
Some 43,000 people have crossed from North Africa to Italy so far this year, the same amount as in the whole of 2013, the coastguard said.
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, mostly leaving from ports in Libya, was an issue in Italy in the European parliamentary elections on Sunday.
The anti-immigrant Northern League, which had lost much of its support over the last two years due to corruption scandals and leadership changes, recovered to win more than 6 percent of the vote.
Renzi said in an interview with several European newspapers on Saturday that the European Union and the United Nations were not doing enough to help Italy handle the surge of migrants.
"Europe has to call on the United Nations to intervene in Libya and more generally it must show a capacity to manage the immigration phenomenon," he was quoted as saying in the Italian daily La Stampa.
(Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Rosalind Russell)