Arrivals in Italy - one of the main migrant routes into Europe - had been falling in recent years, but numbers picked up again in 2021
In a major operation, Italian coastguard vessels have rescued at least 539 migrants, including Bangladeshis, from a fishing boat drifting off the island of Lampedusa as the risky voyage through the Mediterranean continues.
The rescue on Saturday delivered one of the largest numbers of migrants including women and children in a single day the small Mediterranean island, that is closer to Tunisia than it is to Italy.
Talking to both BBC and The Independent, Lampedusa Mayor Toto Martello confirmed the matter.
Some of the migrants - who had been travelling across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya - reportedly displayed signs of violence.
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Italian prosecutors have opened an inquiry into what may have happened.
A doctor from the humanitarian group MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Alida Serrachieri, said a number of the migrants appeared to have been physically assaulted in Libya while waiting for a boat to transport them to Europe.
“They had burn wounds, firearms wounds,″ Serrachieri told the AP. ”(They) were very worn down, some were dehydrated.”
Many of the migrants were from North Africa or West Africa but some were from Bangladesh, she said.
Investigators are looking at the possibility that the migrants may have been falsely imprisoned in Libya, local media report.
Also Read - What drives Bangladeshis to the perilous Mediterranean route to reach Europe?
Two coastguard vessels and a customs boat from Italy's financial crimes police, the Guardia di Finanza, helped transport the migrants to Lampedusa.
Lampedusa is one of the main arrival ports for people wanting to reach Europe.
In May, more than 1,000 migrants landed on the Italian island in the space of a few hours.
The island has a migrant camp that was originally designed to hold fewer than 300 people. It now has more than five times that number, with many more held outside on the dusty road.
Most arrive from countries that do not qualify for asylum.
Also Read - Why are so many Bangladeshis fleeing to Europe?
In recent months, several people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings to Europe from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy as the weather has improved.
Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Arrivals in Italy, one of the main migrant routes into Europe, had been falling in recent years, but numbers picked up again in 2021.
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