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Italian navy and coastguard ships have rescued about 1,500 migrants from five boats in the southern Mediterranean in less than 24 hours, officials have said.

All of the migrants were rescued on Saturday by two coastguard ships and one navy vessel in five separate operations, the Italian coastguard said on Sunday.

Three of the migrants’ boats were in difficulty and sent rescue requests via satellite phones while off the coast of Libya. The Italian vessels spotted the other two while heading for the others.

The migrants were all transferred on to the Italian ships and were being taken to either the island of Lampedusa or ports in Sicily, the coastguard added.

About 170,000 migrants entered the EU through Italy last year by way of the dangerous sea crossing organised by human traffickers, most departing from Libya. More than 3,000 died attempting to make the crossing.

During the first two-months of this year, arrivals were up 43% on the same period in 2014, officials have said.

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