Seeking asylum Thousands of migrants rescued at sea

More than 5,500 people rescued off the coast of Libya on Saturday and Sunday in more than a dozen separate operations led by the Italian navy

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Nearly 5,500 migrants were rescued from boats near the coast of Libya on Saturday and early on Sunday, the Italian coastguard said.

A spokesman said rescue operations were likely to continue throughout Sunday. All of those pulled from boats were being taken to Italy.

Italian authorities said the migrants were rescued by Italian and French navy vessels in 17 separate operations.

At least 1,750 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.

The number is a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014, when 96 people died.

Many more migrants are expected to make the crossing as smugglers take advantage of calmer weather.

At an emergency meeting last month to discuss the crisis, European Union leaders said they would triple the funding for rescue operations run by EU border agency Frontex, and threatened to target smugglers' boats with military strikes.

Italy abandoned its Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission last year after some EU members - including the UK - said they could not afford to fund it.

The decision was widely criticised in April after more than 800 people died when a single boat sank - the deadliest capsize recorded in the Mediterranean.

Some of the 27 survivors of the accident described being beaten by smugglers in an attempt to load more migrants on to the boat.

The overloaded vessel crashed into a cargo ship shortly after leaving Libya, causing panic on board.

The dead were mostly Syrians, Eritreans, and Somalis - adults and children.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said "much more" needs to be done beyond the EU's current spending plans to tackle the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

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