refugee crisis
A woman pulls a girl out of the water as refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing from Turkey Dimitris Michalakis/ Reuters

A woman drowned after human smugglers forced her and dozens of other migrants to make a night-time dive into the cold Mediterranean waters off Italy. The Italian coastguard said it rescued 36 people that traffickers let off at three different locations near Leuca, the southernmost point of the Apulia region.

The migrants, including more than 20 women and a child, are said to be Somali nationals. Rescuers are searching for other possible survivors as at least another woman is believed to be missing.

The asylum seekers told authorities smugglers got away after forcing them off the boat at about 3.30am local time on 11 January. A man suffering from hypothermia and a woman have been taken to a local hospital.

It was not immediately clear from where the rubber raft had departed. Most Italy-bound migrant boats cross from Northern African countries, mainly Libya, and are usually intercepted off Sicily or the southern Island of Lampedusa.

Arrivals in Apulia are rarer as the sea route to reach its shores it significantly longer, unless the crossing is made from the Balkans, which became a transit region for hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to reach central Europe from Greece in 2015.

Fewer than a thousand migrants arrived in Italy via sea in the first 10 days of 2016, according to the coastguard. The migratory influx normally slows down due to winter's harsher sea and weather conditions as compared to other seasons.

Almost 10,000 migrants arrived in Greece in the first week of January instead, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with at least 46 reported dead or missing.