Italy plans refugee sea operation

Italy on Monday planned a large-scale deployment of forces in the Mediterranean to manage the influx of asylum seekers as the latest boatload carrying 137 migrants arrived on its shores.

Italy plans refugee sea operation
An estimated 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy so far this year. Photo: Italian coast guard press office/AFP

The 12-metre long boat was intercepted by coast guards and taken to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where 364 migrants drowned last month in the country's worst ever refugee shipwreck disaster.

The new arrivals were all migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and are believed to have arrived from Libya, news channel SkyTG24 reported.

They have been taken to an overcrowded refugee centre on Lampedusa, where some of the 155 survivors from the tragedy are also being housed.

In a second accident at sea on Friday, at least 36 people perished and over 200 were plucked from the water when their boat capsized off Malta.

The UN refugee agency estimates some 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year – many of them from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is expected to meet with his defence, foreign and interior ministers later on Monday to agree on stepping up its air and naval search and rescue operation.

It already has three navy ships patrolling its southern maritime border, as well as ships and planes from the coast guard and border patrol.

Italy and Malta have appealed for more assistance from other European states to deal with the sharp increase in refugee arrivals this year.

The number of asylum seekers landing on its shores has increased drastically since the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa in 2011.

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