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Italy saves 3,400 migrants off Libya over weekend

Italy shelters growing numbers of refugees as neighbours to north move to tighten borders
Italian coastguards in a recent rescue operation of a boat dangerously overloaded with migrants in the Mediterranean (AFP/Italian coastguard)

About 1,100 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Sunday, bringing the tally over the weekend to 3,400, Italy's coastguard said.

Those saved on Sunday had left Libya aboard eight overloaded inflatable dinghies and two fishing vessels, it said.

They were picked up by Italian coastguard and naval vessels, a British and an Irish warship and several ships chartered by humanitarian NGOs, the coastguard spokesman added.

The Aquarius, hired by the groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), said it had picked up 252 people, including women and small children.

On Saturday, 2,300 people were rescued from 18 small boats that were heading to Italy.

The weekend's arrivals come on the heels of a big migrant wave at the end of August when more than 14,000 people were plucked to safety in the space of five days. Most were from sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Italy's interior ministry about 124,500 migrants have arrived since the start of 2016, slightly more than the 122,000 recorded for the whole of 2015.

Italy is sheltering a growing number of would-be refugees as its European Union neighbours to the north have moved to tighten their borders and make it harder for migrants to travel to their preferred destinations.

According to Italian interior ministry figures this month, Italy now has 155,000 migrants in reception centres compared with 103,000 in 2015 and 66,000 in 2014.

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