Italy’s coast guard said on Thursday it had rescued more than 300 migrants from a packed boat in which they had travelled hundreds of kilometres (miles) from Egypt to the Strait of Sicily.
People fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have been arriving in southern Italian waters for years, usually from Libya, where they pay smugglers for the passage.
A spokeswoman for the Italian coast guard said migrants had arrived from Egypt in the past, but much less frequently than from Libya, which is about half as far away by boat.
Italy’s coast guard and a Spanish aircraft working for European Union border agency Frontex went on Wednesday to the aid of the boat, rescuing 156 men, 51 women and 107 minors.
The migrants were from Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Palestinian territory, Libya, Sudan and the Comoros Islands, the coast guard said in a statement.
A massive influx of boat migrants that began last year has been mainly channelled from Turkey to the Greek islands, prompting the EU to strike a deal with Ankara to send back newcomers.
The rescued migrants are due to arrive in the southern Italian port of Crotone, about 770 nautical miles from the coast of northern Egypt.