The Italian navy rescued nearly 500 migrants, including 100 children, in an all-night operation today that highlighted the increasing number of minors venturing out on the dangerous sea journey to Europe.
A total of 133 children along with 74 women were brought aboard two navy vessels last evening from two fishing boats tethered together off Sicily, but the operation had to be suspended due to rough waters, the navy said.
The remaining migrants, 281 men, were thrown life preservers and rescued today. Most were from Syria, Egypt and Bangladesh, the navy said.
The Save the Children charity has expressed concern about the large number of unaccompanied minors arriving in this year's surge of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty, usually aboard unseaworthy boats.
While most children under 10 who arrive in Italy are with family, many adolescents are traveling alone. Save the Children says there are not adequate facilities to accommodate and protect them.
There has been an enormous jump this year in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Of the 26,644 migrants who arrived in Italy through April 30 this year, 3,848 were minors and 2,744 of those were unaccompanied.
That compares with 3,362 arrivals in the same period last year, including 522 unaccompanied minors and 58 children with families.
The UN estimates that over 170 people have died at sea trying to reach Europe so far this year. Italy launched patrols of the Mediterranean after several hundred people drown in a single shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa last year.