A baby girl born on board the Italian navy patrol ship Bettica was among more than 3 000 asylum seekers and migrants landed at ports in the south of mainland Italy and on the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily.
The mother had gone into labour just before leaving Libya aboard one of four barely seaworthy boats whose occupants were rescued by the Bettica.
Mother and baby were in hospital and doing well, the navy said.
Not everyone was so lucky as at least 10 migrants died, adding to an estimated total of more than 1 750 people who have perished in the waters between Libya and Italy since the start of this year.
The weekend’s surge in the number of boats leaving Libya was put down to fine weather and calm sea conditions and will have confirmed the fears of Italian officials who anticipate a record number of arrivals between now and September.
Last year’s total of 170 000 was unprecedented and current trends point to that figure being exceeded this year.
Among the ships involved in rescue ops at the weekend was the Maltabased M Y Phoenix, run jointly by private body Migrant Offshore Aid Station (Moas) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without ders).
The Phoenix, on its first mission of the year, was involved in the rescue of more than 470 people between Saturday and yesterday.
They included several pregnant women and babies and a total of 45 children.
Christopher Catrambone, the American philanthropist who cofounded Moas with his wife Regina, said he had been shocked by the condition of people they discovered on a fishing boat they assisted on Sunday afternoon.
“The people were packed in so tightly that their legs had cramped and they struggled to move as we rescued them,” he said.
MSF treated migrants suf-
Borfering from injuries sustained during beatings by people smugglers and others suffering from conditions including diabetes, dehydration and skin infections, as well as carrying out checks on the pregnant women.
MSF’s Will Turner said: “The boat was absolutely crammed full. As the men, women and children we rescued curled up under blankets to sleep, there wasn’t a centimetre to spare. The scale of this crisis is just heartbreaking. I wish we could do more.”
The migrants landed in southern Italy will quickly be dispersed to reception centres across the country pending decisions on their future.
Aid agencies say a large number of those attempting the Mediterranean crossing have legitimate claims to asylum in Europe as they are fleeing conflict or represession in places including Syria and Eritrea.