THE Italian navy has rescued more than 1100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily.

Helicopters identified the overcrowded rafts and four navy vessels took part in the rescue.

The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants.

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Italy is a gateway into Europe for migrants and sea arrivals more than tripled in 2013 from 2012, fuelled by Syria's civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa.

The latest migrants were found in eight boats and a barge about 120 miles (222km) south-east of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

They included 47 women, four of them who were pregnant, and 50 children, all probably from sub-Saharan Africa.

In October, 366 Eritreans drowned in a shipwreck near the shore of Lampedusa, which is located about halfway between Sicily and Tunisia.

More than 200 migrants, most of them Syrians, died in another shipwreck a week later.

Over the past two decades, Italy, Greece and Malta have borne the brunt of migrant flows and have urged the EU to make a more robust and coordinated response.

Meanwhile, at least seven migrants have drowned trying to reach the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in North Africa.