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4,500 refugees rescued in Mediterranean: Italy coastguard

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This handout picture released on May 25, 2016 by the Italian Navy shows the shipwreck of an overcrowded boat of refugees off the Libyan coast. ©AFP

Italy says a total of 4,500 refugees have been rescued from rubber dinghies in the Mediterranean with the help of humanitarian bodies before another boat tragedy happens in high seas.

An Italian coastguard spokesman said the refugees were brought to safety in about 40 rescue operations, backed by the navy and humanitarian organizations, in a single day on Thursday.

The body of a woman was also taken from a large rubber boat.

The coastguard, which coordinates rescue operations, said it had deployed several boats to the sea.

The Italian navy also said it had rescued 515 people from two boats.

Earlier in the day, around two dozen refugee boats had been spotted in the sea about 20 nautical miles from the Libyan port city of Sabratha, according to the Topaz Responder, a ship run by the Malta-based humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).

“The mass movement is probably the result of week-long, unfavorable weather conditions” that have come to an end, MOAS said.

The group said it rescued 382 sub-Saharan African refugees from three different large rubber boats.

Refugees are rescued from the Mediterranean by the Italian Coast Guard ship ‘Diciotti’ on March 17, 2016 in Sicily. ©AFP

Another humanitarian ship, run by Doctors without Borders, picked up 1,139 refugees from 10 boats, and two other humanitarian vessels picked up 156 more.

German humanitarian group Sea-Watch said it had also saved 100 refugees on board.

Libya’s navy has also intercepted about 1,000 refugees on board eight rubber boats off Sabratha on Thursday morning, spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.

The refugees were from Arab as well as sub-Saharan African countries.

Italy has been on the front line of Europe's refugee crisis. More than 320,000 boat refugees reached the country from North Africa in 2014-15.

As of Wednesday, 56,328 refugees had reached Italy on boats in 2016, according to the Interior Ministry.

Nigerians, Eritreans and Gambians had been the top three refugee nationalities this year, the ministry said, and more than 125,000 are now living in Italian shelters.

Europe has been grappling with its biggest influx of refugees since World War II, as people flee conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East.

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