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Italy plans refugee operation as latest boat lands

This picture, grabbed from a video, shows immigrants being frisked by crew members of a naval vessel after being rescued from the sea, off the Italian island of Lampedusa, on October 13, 2013
This picture, grabbed from a video, shows immigrants being frisked by crew members of a naval vessel after being rescued from the sea, off the Italian island of Lampedusa, on October 13, 2013

Italy on Monday planned a large-scale deployment of forces in the Mediterranean to manage the influx of asylum seekers as the latest boatload carrying 137 migrants arrived on its shores.

The plan is to triple the air and naval assets on Italy's southern maritime border ahead of an EU summit next week in which Italy wants the issue of increased refugee arrivals to be on the agenda.

"It is a deployment that will allow us to ask the European Union to do the same," Defence Minister Mario Mauro said ahead of a cabinet meeting later on Monday with Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

The plan is for the operation to start on Tuesday and media reports said drones could also be used as well as a new radar system to track the boats.

Italy already has three navy ships patrolling in the region, as well as helicopters, ships and planes from the coast guard and border patrol.

The UN refugee agency estimates 32,000 asylum seekers have landed in Italy and Malta this year -- many of them from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.

The numbers have increased drastically since the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa in 2011 and there is a particularly serious problem in Libya which is unable to control its maritime frontier.

Letta is also planning to request that an Italian be appointed to head up the European Union's Frontex border agency and that the service have an operational office in Italy.

Frontex is based in Poland and headed up by executive director Ilkka Laitinen from Finland.

Meanwhile a new boatload of migrants was taken by coast guards to the tiny island of Lampedusa, where 364 migrants drowned on October 3 in Italy's worst ever refugee shipwreck disaster.

The new arrivals were all migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and are believed to have arrived from Libya, news channel SkyTG24 reported.

They have been taken to an overcrowded refugee centre on Lampedusa, where some of the 155 survivors from the disaster are also being housed.

In a second tragic accident at sea on Friday, at least 36 people perished and over 200 were plucked from the water when their boat capsized off Malta.

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