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7,000 migrants rescued off Italy

The European Union must quickly adapt to growing numbers of migrants trying to reach its shores, the senior migration official said, as figures showed more than 7,000 migrants have been plucked from the Mediterranean in the last four days.

"The unprecedented influx of migrants at our borders, and in particular refugees, is unfortunately the new norm and we will need to adjust our responses accordingly," the EU's commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said in Brussels.

More than 280,000 people entered the European Union illegally last year. Many came from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia and made the perilous sea journey from conflict-torn Libya.

European coastguards have been overwhelmed by the numbers, and as the weather has begun to warm, even more people have been fleeing conflict and poverty for better lives in Europe.

Of the 7,000 migrants saved in the Mediterranean since Friday, "over 3,500 are still on board rescue vessels and being taken to Italy and so far, 11 bodies were recovered", EU migration spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said.

Meanwhile the EU's Frontex border agency said that people smugglers trying to recover a wooden boat carrying migrants had fired shots into the air to warn away a coastguard vessel.

The incident happened 60 nautical miles off the coast of Libya after an Italian tugboat and the coastguard ship came to the rescue of 250 migrants.

The coastguard vessel was already carrying 342 migrants from a previous rescue.

It is at least the second incident of this kind, raising concern for the safety of rescue workers and migrants.

Late next month, Mr Avramopoulos is expected to unveil a new EU strategy aimed at tackling the migrant wave.

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