January 27, 2018 / 7:06 PM / 9 months ago

Around 800 migrants rescued in Mediterranean, two bodies recovered

MILAN (Reuters) - Around 800 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean on Saturday as they tried to reach Europe and two bodies were recovered, Italy’s coast guard, which coordinated the rescues, said in a statement.

No details about the nationalities of those rescued were given, nor was there further information about the deaths.

The migrants were picked up from two barges, two rubber dinghies and one small boat in five separate rescue operations.

During one of the rescues, two helicopters from the Italian navy were used to pick-up seven children with water in their lungs and transport them to the nearest hospital in Tunisia where they were given the necessary care, the coast guard added.

Immigration is a key issue ahead of a national election in Italy on March 4. The ruling Democratic Party has pointed to a sharp fall in arrivals from Libya since July as proof that it is now managing what before seemed like an endless flow of migrant boats.

Arrivals fell by a third last year to 119,000 compared with a year earlier, and they tumbled by two thirds in the second half of the year. The declines came after a deal with the Tripoli government sealed in February, which foresaw aid and training for the Libyans to fight people smuggling and to bolster their coastguard.

More than 20,000 are estimated to have died attempting the crossing to Italy in the past four years, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates, making it the deadliest border for migrants in the world.

As of Jan. 25, 4,742 people had reached Europe by sea so far this year, the IOM said.

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Louise Heavens

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