migranti tutrska
Photograph: EPA/FILIP SINGER

Some 730 people were rescued off the coast of Sicily on Sunday, while a German paper reported that due to restrictions along the so-called Balkan route, human traffickers were planning to redirect more migrants towards Italian shores.

The Italian coastguard and the navy carried out six rescue operations involving rubber dinghies. The rescued migrants, including 118 women and four children, were due to disembark in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Monday, a coastguard statement said.

In Germany, the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said traffickers were looking for new migrant smuggling routes in response to the EU-Turkey deal, which is seeking to restrict passage through the Balkans - until recently the main corrider for migrants striving to reach richer European countries further north.

The paper said traffickers were planning to use Italy-bound fishing ships and small cargo vessels beginning in the first week of April, using Turkey's beachside resort of Antalya, the city of Mersin near the Syrian border and the Greek capital Athens as departure points.

After paying a fee of between 3,000 and 5,000 euros (3,400-5,600 dollars), migrants will be instructed to stay below deck until the ship reaches international waters, according to smugglers who provided their mobile numbers on Facebook.

The new route is decidedly more expensive than the journey from Turkey to the Greek islands, but under the new migration deal between Brussels and Ankara, migrants who illegally arrive on Greek shores can expect to be returned to Turkey unless they can prove that they face persecution there. 

Italy was the preferred entry route for Europe-bound sea migrants until last year, when arrivals to Greece surged massively.

According to the Internatioanl Organization for Migration, out of nearly 163,000 sea migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in 2016, more than 149,000 landed in Greece and less than 14,000 arrived in Italy.

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