Hundreds of migrants arrive in Italian ports as European navies continue rescue efforts

Those arriving form part of nearly 3,500 migrants recently pulled from unseaworhty vessels in the Mediterranean

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of migrants have arrived in Italy after being rescued by European naval vessels.

The migrants arriving at Italian ports were part of nearly 3,500 migrants saved a day earlier from unseaworthy vessels floating in the Mediterranean Sea.

But they do not face an overly warm welcome in Italy. Officials like Giovanni Toti, elected last week as governor of Liguria,  have vowed that Italy will refuse to play host to any more migrants.

Toti's election campaign was backed by Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, and the anti-immigrant Northern League party, which has seen a surge in support of late.

 

The issue has taken on a new significance in Italy's north following warnings by mayors and officials in southern towns that they have run out of room for arriving migrants.

The national government has demanded northern towns accept their share of migrants or face funding cuts.

Other European nations are also concerned about the number of migrants arriving in Europe. Britain's defence secretary Michael Fallon has expressed concern that hundreds of thousands of migrants in Libya could try to cross the Mediterranean this summer.

Carlotta Sami, an officials with the UN refugee agency, said such a figure was speculation, but stressed that certainly "thousands" of migrants were ready to make the journey.

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The British warship HMS Bulwark was among those dispatched to pick up survivors, rescuing 500 migrants from four boats in waters off the coast of Libya after a helicopter identified the vessels as in distress.

European naval vessels had been ordered to the area after 14 migrant boats were spotted struggling in open water. Last week HMS Bulwark rescued 747 people from similarly overcrowded boats.

A Singapore-based merchant ship was also called in to help, a spokesman for the Italian coastguard said.

The coastguard, which coordinates rescue efforts from Rome, said a total of 10 distress calls had been received.

While European navies conduct search and rescue efforts, their governments are struggling to find a political solution to the problem.

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Rescued migrants have been taken to Sicily (MOD)

Speaking at the G7 summit in Germany on Sunday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would not "walk on by" if people were in danger, but called for a more long-term strategy to halt the flow of migrants from Libya.

"The two key things that need to happen are [the creation of] a government in Libya and breaking the connection between getting on a boat and getting settlement in Europe. We need to take on these two things," he said earlier.

Ministers from around the EU are due to discuss a European Commission plan to disperse 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other member states at a meeting in Luxembourg on June 16.

It is estimated that so far more than 1,600 people have drowned trying to make the crossing to Europe this year.

(Additional reporting by agencies)

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