ROME : The Italian navy said on Tuesday it had rescued nearly 600 Syrian, Palestinian and Eritrean migrants crossing the Mediterranean in two overcrowded boats, including 62 minors.
The Italian frigate Grecale pulled 323 Syrians and Palestinians to safety late on Monday, after helping rescue another 273 migrants from Eritrea, who were taken aboard the gunboat Sfinge, the navy said in a statement.
Meanwhile, seven migrants including two children died early on Tuesday after their boat sank in the Aegean Sea, Greek port authorities said. Two others remained missing after the accident off the island of Lesbos, they said. Eight people were plucked out of the sea alive.
Greece is one of the main ports of entry into the EU for people fleeing war-torn and impoverished countries in Africa, the ME and the Indian subcontinent.
People traffickers last year began using Greece’s Aegean islands as a preferred route into Europe following a tightening of migration controls along its land border with Turkey.
Refugee arrivals have increased over the past year because of the war in Syria, and 12 women and children from Syria and Afghanistan died in January in a sinking in the Aegean.
Survivors of that incident said their boat capsized while Greek coastguards were towing them back to the Turkish coast at high speed. An investigation is ongoing.
Two months earlier, in November, a boat went down off the Greek island of Lefkada in the Ionian Sea claiming the lives of 12 migrants including four children.