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Migrants rescued off island to be visited by pope

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Italian coast guards on Wednesday intercepted a boat carrying more than 200 migrants and two French journalists off the coast of Lampedusa, a tiny island due to be visited by Pope Francis.

A total of 227 people were on board, including 41 women and four children, Italian media reported.

Lampedusa is a transit point for thousands of undocumented migrants into the European Union, who often make perilous journeys on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies across the Mediterranean.

An outcrop covering just 20 square kilometres (7.8 square miles), Lampedusa is closer to North Africa than to the Italian mainland and tens of thousands of migrants have landed there since the beginning of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011.

Sixty-five migrants were also rescued off the coast of the Calabria region on mainland Italy on a boat that was taking on water and risked sinking.

Pope Francis has said he wants to visit Lampedusa on Monday to pray for people who have lost their lives in the crossings and offer support to the local population, which has hosted the migrants.

Nearly 8,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year -- double the number from last year over the same period. The highest number of migrants arrived in Lampedusa -- 3,648 people, or three times more than last year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130703/migrants-rescued-island-be-visited-pope