The Italian Navy went to the aid of three migrant boats in the Mediterranean yesterday (28 January 2016), rescuing 290 people and recovering six bodies near a half-sunken rubber vessel, a spokesman said. These were the first six deaths recorded in 2016 on the North Africa to Italy route, he added.

The navy rescued 109 migrants from a large rubber boat in the morning, and then 107 from a second boat a few hours later. When the navy arrived at a third rubber craft, it was sinking. They managed to pull 74 people to safety, but six bodies were recovered from the water. A navy helicopter is continuing to search for more survivors, the spokesman said.

The Italian coastguard is also working just off the Greek island of Kos. On 26 January, night-time video filmed by the coastguard showed Pakistani migrants being hauled from the water from a boat that had all but sunk. The influx of migrants last year provided the European Union with one of the harshest tests in its history, leading to threats from some member states to bar Greece from the Schengen passport-free travel area.

Italy and Greece are on the frontline of Europe's biggest immigration crisis since World War Two, with overcrowded boats packed with migrants reaching their shores from North Africa and Turkey.