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Alan Kurdi rescue ship picks up another 44 migrants


Valletta (AFP)

The migrant rescue boat Alan Kurdi has saved another 44 people, including women and infants from their stricken vessel in the Mediterranean, its operator German charity Sea-Eye said on Tuesday.

Malta has agreed to take in those rescued and is sending a vessel to pick them up, the charity said in a statement. The Maltese authorities did not immediately confirm this.

The Alan Kurdi last week rescued 65 shipwrecked migrants attempting the perilous journey from North Africa, handing them over to Malta after hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed Italy's ports to the vessel.

Sea-Eye said it was alerted to the plight of the latest migrants off the Libyan coast by Tunisian fishermen and the Colibri civilian search plane.

The rescued migrants said they had left Zuwara in Libya early Saturday.

Their wooden boat was in Malta's search and rescue area so Maltese authorities asked a nearby freighter to coordinate the rescue, which told Sea-Eye to take the migrants on board.

"Forty-four people, including four women and three children," were brought aboard the Alan Kurdi, Sea-Eye said.

The children are 15 months, three and five years old. The people come from Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Guinea.

"A 15-month-old baby should never have to be in such a life-threatening situation," said Sea-Eye spokeswoman Carlotta Weibl.

The 65 migrants the Alan Kurdi handed over to Maltese authorities on Sunday have already been sent on to other European Union countries, but it is not clear what would happen to those most recently rescued.

An Italian customs vessel on Tuesday brought 47 rescued migrants into Sicily's Pozzallo port, Italian media reported.

The migrants had been headed to Lampedusa, between Sicily and Libya, but there was no space for them there as hundreds of migrants continue to arrive by their own means or are rescued by authorities.

Salvini has vowed to close Italian ports to charity rescue ships, which he accuses of helping people smugglers.

Interior ministry figures showed that 395 migrants have arrived in Italy since the end of June.

Italian media reported on Tuesday that this year barely one in 10 migrants and asylum seekers has been brought into Italy by charity vessels, the vast majority arriving by other means.

Lampedusa mayor Salvatore Martello said he had tried to contact the interior ministry to meet Salvini to discuss the migrant situation but to no avail.

Salvini on Monday said he wanted to deploy military vessels to stop migrant vessels arriving.

Half of the migrants landed in Pozzallo are Tunisian, Italian media reported. Salvini has written to the Tunisian authorities urging a new bilateral deal on handling migrants, including using ferries to repatriate.

Italy and Malta have repeatedly criticised Europe's "case-by-case" approach to migrant rescues, which means shipwreck victims spend days or weeks at sea while countries try to agree where they should go.

The Alan Kurdi, which had been banned from entering Maltese and Italian waters, is the third rescue vessel in a week to make headlines.

Some 41 people were finally allowed to step off migrant rescue charity Mediterranea's Italian-flagged Alex, which arrived at the port on Saturday in an overnight operation that saw the ship seized by authorities.

The boat's captain Tommaso Stella is being investigated for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

Salvini last month issued a decree that would impose fines of up to 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the captain, owner and operator of a vessel "entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation".

Authorities on Lampedusa in late June seized a rescue ship belonging to German aid group Sea-Watch, which had forced its way into port with dozens of rescued migrants on board, and arrested its captain Carola Rackete.

An Italian judge subsequently ordered her freed, saying she had been acting to save lives, a decision which sparked Salvini's ire but may have encouraged the Alex crew.

Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe.

Last week, 53 migrants were killed in an air strike on a detention centre in a Tripoli suburb held by forces loyal to the UN-recognised government.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for "humanitarian corridors" to help rescue migrants in response to that air strike.

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