Italian military vessels on Saturday aided a decrepit fishing boat crammed with 539 migrants that was approaching the tiny southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
Alida Serrachieri, a nurse who runs the Doctors Without Borders’ operation on Lampedusa, said the passengers included three women and several unaccompanied minors.
Two coast guard vessels and a customs boat ferried them ashore in small groups.
Serrachieri said she didn’t know how long the fishing boat had been at sea after being launched from Libyan shores. But she said the migrants had spent weeks or even months in Libya awaiting passage in traffickers’ boats in hopes of reaching Europe.
At least 20 of the migrants who were examined by medical personnel had scars from torture, she said.
“They had burn wounds, firearms wounds,'' Serrachieri told the AP. ”(They) were very worn down, some were dehydrated."
Many of the migrants were from North Africa or West Africa but some were from Bangladesh, she said.
In addition, two small boats with about 15 migrants each reached Lampedusa's waters unaided from Tunisia earlier Saturday, she said. A third such boat with about 20 aboard was spotted approaching Lampedusa Saturday afternoon.
The island's housing complex, where migrants stay while the initial paperwork is done for asylum applications, can hold about 250 people but Saturday's arrivals swelled the number of occupants to about 1,200. Many migrants were awaiting transfer by boat to Sicily or the Italian mainland.