Maltese navy rescues more migrants

More than 500 migrants have reached Malta from North Africa so far this year (AFP Photo/Matthew Mirabelli)

Valletta (AFP) - The Maltese navy said Saturday it had rescued 216 more migrants, including pregnant women and minors, from two small craft in the Mediterranean.

Malta, which was holding a vote for the European Union parliament Saturday, has appealed to the EU for help in dealing with the flow of migrants, which much larger neighbour Italy has begun to turn away.

A navy statement said the migrants were on board two boats, and the first group was rescued after it "sent out a distress call that their boat was taking in water".

They were being ferried to Malta, which lies near Libya, "when another distress call from another migrant vessel came in.

"So the patrol boat turned around and proceeded to rescue the second group too," the statement said, before adding that "pregnant women and unaccompanied minors are among those rescued".

All were expected to reach Malta around midday.

The island of 450,000 people is a common destination for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, and a hardline stance from Italy has increased pressure on it.

More than 500 migrants have reached Malta this year, while 1,425 have made it to Italy, which has a population 130 times larger.

International Organization for Migration figures show 24,687 migrants have reached Europe so far this year, well below the record of around one million in 2015, and also likely to fall below the 2018 figure of 144,000.

Among EU member states, Spain took in the most migrants last year, at around 65,000