The fourth year of boats filled with migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy has started at a record pace, with rescuers recently picking up about 500 as almost 1,300 landed at three different ports in Sicily, the Coast Guard said Sunday.

On Friday, the Italian coast guard said the number of migrants saved in rescue operations this year had surpassed 15,000. Meanwhile, the last estimates by the United Nations refugee agency put the number of dead in 2017 alone at 440.


Aid groups have said the exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers.


Migrants who have made the crossing so far this year have told of increasing violence and brutality in Libya where rival factions battle for power.


About half a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy since the start of 2014, with a record 181,000 arriving in 2016.