Migrants are seen aboard a navy ship before being disembarked in the Sicilian harbour of Augusta, June 1, 2014.
Italian navy patrol ships rescued more than 3,500 migrants including hundreds of women and children from boats coming from North Africa, authorities said on Saturday, while Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for help from the European Union.
The rescues, which the coast guard said have been going on since Friday evening, are the latest in a seemingly endless succession as the chronic migrant crisis in the southern Mediterranean has picked up this year.
A total of 3,612 migrants from Syria and North Africa were picked up from 11 boats and taken to ports in Sicily and the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a coastguard spokesman told Reuters.
Some 43,000 people have crossed from North Africa to Italy so far this year, the same amount as in the whole of 2013, the coastguard said.