The Italian government on Friday said 3,600 migrants, including a pregnant Nigerian woman, have been rescued from overcrowded boats sailing from Africa to Europe over the past 48 hours.

The coast guard said in Catania, Sicily that most of the migrants have been picked up by the British warship HMS Bulwark and were Somali and Nigerian.

He said more than 600 migrants were brought ashore at the port of Catania in Sicily, while rescuers plucked another 2,500 from rickety boats off the coast of Libya.

The coast guard said Sandra Dike, a heavily pregnant 20-year-old Nigerian woman, said she left her home country because of the danger of attacks by the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.

“It’s not safe to go to a public place, like a church, the market. Boko Haram may bomb the place at any time.

“The war in Libya is worse and that is why we decided to come to Italy,” she said.

The coast guard official said a German ship, Italian navy vessels, a merchant ship, and Italy’s finance police and coast guard all conducted rescue operations on Friday.

Meanwhile, a 40-metre Phoenix, based in Malta and run by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Doctors Without Borders, said they rescued 561 people.

These had included 136 women and 60 children, mostly from Eritrea.

It said the surge in rescues came just a day after the EU announced a plan, to distribute asylum-seekers more fairly around its member-states and take in 20,000 more refugees.

Phoenix said more than 6,800 people were rescued over three days early May when the weather also was favourable, while dozens were said to have drowned.

It said with the estimated number of migrant deaths at sea in 2015 approaching 2,000, the EU has bolstered its Triton sea mission to help Italy conduct the rescues.

This was after as many as 800 died in a single shipwreck in April.


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