SkyNews: Three boats laden with hundreds of African migrants fleeing Libya have arrived in Italy, the first such vessels to reach Europe since the start of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
The boats carried around 300 people – mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis – and were taken to the tiny outcrop of Linosa close to the larger island of Lampedusa where thousands have been arriving from Tunisia.
Some of the migrants – many of them women and children – were later ferried to Sicily and then taken on buses to a refugee centre.
‘There are no more controls on the Libyan coast now. Thousands are leaving,’ a 26-year-old Eritrean woman rescued from one of the boats and taken to Lampedusa for medical checks said in an interview with TG5 television news.
An Ethiopian woman gave birth at sea on Saturday and was evacuated with her newborn baby from the refugee boat by an Italian navy helicopter.
A second pregnant woman was rescued and hospitalised but had a miscarriage.
“Until now the only migrants to arrive in Lampedusa were Tunisians,” said Laura Boldrini a spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency.
“This is the first boat coming from Libya with people fleeing the military escalation, the vendettas and the retaliation attacks,” she said.
The ANSA news agency quoted migrants from a fourth boat saying they had left Libya and were also heading for Italian shores with around 300 people on board.
And Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest in Italy who has been in contact with many of the migrants via satellite phone, said a fifth vessel – a dinghy – with 68 people on board was also headed for Italy.
The Italian government fears hundreds of thousands of migrants could depart for Italy if Gaddafi’s regime falls. Italy has requested increased assistance from the European Union.
Gaddafi himself has threatened to send ‘millions’ of migrants to Europe.