Refugees fleeing war and poverty arrive at Italian coast of Sicily by boat from Egypt
Italy's coast guard said on Thursday that more than 300 refugees on a packed boat arrived in the Strait of Sicily after travelling hundreds of kilometres from Egypt.
The Italian coast guard and a Spanish aircraft working for European Union border agency Frontex, went on Wednesday to help people on the boat, rescuing 156 men, 51 women and 107 minors.
The rescued refugees are due to arrive in the southern Italian port of Crotone, nearly 770 nautical miles from the coast of northern Egypt.
The refugees were from Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Palestinian territory, Libya, Sudan and the Comoros islands, the coast guard said in a statement.
People fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have been arriving in southern Italian waters for years, usually from Libya where they pay smugglers for the journey.
A spokeswoman for the Italian coast guard said that refugees had arrived from Egypt in the past but much less frequently than from Libya, which is about half as far away by boat.
Scores of refugees who made perilous journeys by boat has been mainly channelled from Turkey to the Greek islands, prompting the EU to strike a deal with Ankara to send back newcomers.
Some 5,600 refugees have been registered on the Greek islands since March 20, the date on which the agreement with Turkey went into effect.
The Turkish deputy prime minister last month said that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey had exceeded 2.7 million, more than in any other country according to UN records.
European countries have so far failed to carry out even the most modest plans to tackle the crisis by resettling refugees.
EU diplomats have widely resisted a plan to eventually redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to the rest of the EU.
Just 1,100 have been relocated so far out of that number, leading critics to say a mockery is being made of the principles of European solidarity and humanitarianism.
The EU is expected to reform its asylum system following the agreement with Turkey.