Rome: The Italian navy picked up more than 2,200 migrants from the Mediterranean over the weekend, in a blow to hopes that the ending of its naval search-and-rescue mission would stem the flow of refugees.
More than 860 migrants, mostly Syrian families, were taken to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo Sunday, showing that many refugees are still ready to risk the perilous crossing from north Africa.
The Italian navy rescued 150,000 people in just over a year before its Mare Nostrum mission ended on November 1 after other EU governments refused to help Italy meet operational costs that Rome estimates at nine million euros ($11.25 million) a month.
Worryingly, the mostly Syrian refugees landed in Pozzallo on Sunday included an unusually high proportion of children, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Around 100 of the migrants were Moroccans, a country not usually represented among the people landing in Italy.
On Saturday a total of 477 migrants were delivered to Porto Empedocle on Sicily`s southern coast by Panamanian tanker the Gaz Concord and a navy patrol boat put 354 ashore at Pozzallo.
Greek oil tanker Byzantion picked up 230 people from their distressed boat on Friday evening and another 80 were taken ashore off the heel of Italy after the yacht in which they had travelled from Turkey was intercepted by coastguards.
Another navy boat, the Vega, was due in the mainland port of Reggio Calabria on Monday morning with another load of 230 migrants.