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Tunisia rescues 356 migrants off southeast coast

An Italian Navy ship rescued migrants as they were heading to the island of Lampedusa/AFP

An Italian Navy ship rescued migrants as they were heading to the island of Lampedusa/AFP

TUNIS, June 10- Tunisia’s navy on Wednesday rescued 356 migrants including a two month old baby girl off the country’s southeastern coast near Ben Guerdane, the Red Crescent said.

Red Crescent official Ammar Lamloum told AFP that the group of migrants, mainly Africans, had been trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa when they were rescued.

“They are now at the port in Ben Guerdane,” he said.

Tunisian and Italian authorities have been at the forefront of rescue efforts for a flood of mainly African migrants fleeing Libya and bound for Europe on unseaworthy boats that run into trouble.

Four of the rescued migrants including a pregnant woman were being treated in hospital, Lamloum said, adding 38 women and seven children had been on the boat.

He said the migrants, who as well as sub Saharan Africans included some Syrians, Moroccans and Egyptians, had left Libya aboard the makeshift vessel but it had broken down off the Tunisian coast.

In April and May, Tunisian vessels rescued more than 450 migrants trying to make the dangerous crossing.

Libya has a coastline of 1,770 kilometres (more than 1,000 miles) and has long been a stepping stone for Africans seeking a better life in Europe.

Most head for the Italian island of Lampedusa which lies some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from Libyan shores.

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People smugglers, who have operated in Libya for years, have increased their lucrative trade, feeding on the political divisions and lawlessness that has gripped the country since the end of its 2011 uprising.

On April 19, some 750 migrants were killed when their trawler sank between Libya and southern Italy, sparking global outrage and demands for action.

The number of migrants entering the EU illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to European Union border agency Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the Mediterranean.

The International Organization for Migration said in April that some 1,750 migrants had already died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year, 30 times more than during the same period in 2014.

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