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Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 11:32 UK

Migrants rescued off Italy coast

Migrants gathered in a reception centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa
Some 12,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa since January

Italian vessels have rescued at least 250 would-be migrants from boats and vessels off the coast of Italy.

The navy rescued at least 175 people, believed to be from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia from three vessels, 190km (120 miles) south of Lampedusa island.

A further 72 people - including seven women and a child - were rescued from a rubber dinghy by the coastguard.

Local politicians say Lampedusa is facing a crisis with 12,000 would-be migrants brought ashore since January.

Dangerous journey

The Italian navy agreed to rescue those onboard the three vessels after they ran out of fuel and water in Libyan territorial waters.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, had appealed to Malta, Libya and Italy to rescue the stranded vessels.

A UNHCR spokesman told Reuters news agency he believed some 25 women and six children were among those on board.

Those rescued from the dinghy 80km south of Lampedusa included seven women and a child, Italian media report.

Thousands of Africans risk their lives to make the perilous journey each year, many leaving in makeshift vessels from Libya hoping to gain entry to Europe via Italy or Malta.

Last year, according to rights watchdog the Council of Europe, some 51,000 migrants arrived by boat in Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta, many of them asylum seekers and refugees who lack legal avenues to enter Europe.

Emergency services in Italy have warned that crowded holding centres in the country are on the verge of collapse, worsening a state of emergency declared by the Italian government over immigrants.


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