Migrants wait to disembark from a tugboat after being rescued in the Pozzallo harbor in Sicily, Italy, on Feb. 15, 2015
Francesco Malavolta—AP
February 16, 2015 4:10 AM EST

The Italian coast guard rescued more than 2,000 migrants who got into difficulty between the Libyan coast and the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday.

The rescue teams were also threatened by four men armed with Kalashnikov rifles who approached them by speedboat from Libya, reports the BBC.

The gunmen forced the rescuers to return one of the boats after the migrants had been taken off it to safety, said Italy’s Transport Ministry.

Local media reported that all 2,164 migrants aboard 12 boats had been saved and taken to Italy.

The stretch of Mediterranean between Northern Africa and Italy is a perilous crossing for those in unseaworthy vessels. The U.N. said almost 3,500 people died attempting the voyage in 2014.

Last week, at least 300 migrants perished in the Mediterranean as their overcrowded boats sank in stormy weather.

On Friday, another 600 migrants, on board just six dinghies, were rescued by the Italian coast guard after their rubber craft got into trouble.

[BBC]

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Write to Helen Regan at helen.regan@timeasia.com.

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