Hundreds of migrants reach the Italian coast over the weekend

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ROME — Italian authorities scrambled to ease overcrowding in shelters on Sunday after dozens of boats carrying about 1,000 migrants reached Italy’s southern coast and two of its tiny islands over the weekend.

According to state radio and other Italian media, almost 50 boats arrived on the island of Lampedusa off Sicily between Friday evening and Saturday. Other boats carrying migrants reached Pantelleria, another tiny island favored by holidaymakers.

Hundreds of migrants disembarked from the virtual flotilla of smuggling ships on these islands. Some of the ships launched by migrant smugglers only held eight passengers. But others reportedly had around 100 passengers on board, many of them from Tunisia.

Other boats reached the coast of mainland Italy on Saturday, either unassisted or assisted by Italian Coast Guard vessels.

Italian news agency ANSA said 92 migrants, most of them from Afghanistan, reached Puglia – the “heel” of the boot-shaped peninsula – in a sailing boat on Saturday. Still other migrants sailed to Calabria in the “toes” of the peninsula, while other boats reached Sicily and Sardinia, Italy’s two largest islands, in the past two days.

In Sardinia, paramilitary police Carabinieri spotted 29 migrants walking down a street, ANSA said.

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières tweeted that one of its rescue vessels, Geo Barents, rescued 25 migrants, including five minors, from a small boat in distress in international waters near Libya on Saturday night. Geo Barents has already rescued other migrants abroad in other rescue operations, the group said.

With hundreds of migrants disembarking from boats in recent days, the residence where rescued migrants were temporarily housed on Lampedusa was quickly becoming overcrowded. The residence housed 1,500 asylum seekers, almost four times its capacity, according to Corriere della Sera.

Interior Ministry authorities arranged for a commercial passenger ferry to sail from Sicily to Lampedusa, where they are expected to arrive on Sunday evening, embark 250 migrants and take them to Sicilian migrant residences in a bid to ease crowding on the tiny island.

While hundreds of thousands of migrants have set sail aboard smuggling boats from the Libyan coast in recent decades, many have also set out from Tunisia.

Italian media noted that on Friday and Saturday the Tunisian Coast Guard foiled at least twenty attempts by ships filled with migrants to enter Italy and rescued many others from boats in distress.

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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