At least two die, 22 rescued from migrant boat off Sicily

The UN migration agency said the boat had been carrying Tunisian and West African people

The UN migration agency said the boat had been carrying Tunisian and West African people

Around a dozen people, reportedly including eight children and other pregnant women, are still missing after the small, overloaded boat capsized off the coast of the southern Italian island, the coastguard said.

The coastguard and a customs vessel have rescued 22 people with the search for survivors ongoing, including by air, the coastguard said.

Nine bodies had been recovered, it added.

Conditions in the Mediterranean were said to be rough and the vessel capsized after many of its passengers rushed to one side.

Twenty-two people were plucked from the sea and brought to safety.

The International Organization for Migration said that at least 19,000 migrants have drowned or gone missing since 2016 while making the unsafe Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe.

The ship, which had set sail from Tunisia, had been carrying around 50 people, nearly all from Tunisia and west African, the United Nations migration agency said.

The UN says more than 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year trying to make the perilous journey to Europe.

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Canals said that Malta's rescue coordination center told the group not to offer the migrants any assistance, saying that Italy would probably send a patrol boat from Lampedusa, about an hour away. "We can not continue to watch bodies being unloaded of poor people who are following a dream to better their lives". Many more are feared dead.

Italy has introduced tough laws over the past year to dissuade charity rescue ships from operating in the Mediterranean in an effort to cut back on the number of possible asylum-seekers reaching the country.

But that operation, dubbed Sophia, is now limited to aerial searches to identify smugglers' boats in need of rescue. Malta has said it will let this group disembark on Tuesday.

Since the beginning of 2019, 1,041 migrants have died at sea, the organization said.

In the absence of an European Union search and rescue operation, the job of rescuing migrants has largely been left to humanitarian rescue ships, which both Italy and Malta have consistently refused to allow into port.

But there are fewer of those than a year ago because of sanctions they face under measures adopted when hard-liner Matteo Salvini was interior minister.

A coastguard and a police boat spotted the listing migrant boat just after midnight about 6 nautical miles from the coast of Lampedusa, having picked up a call for help late on Sunday.

But Open Arms chose to rescue them anyway because the boat wouldn't have made it to land without fuel.

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