Italian navy lands...a baby girl

ROME (AFP) - Italy's efforts to cope with the flow of African migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean rarely gives reason to warm the heart.

This weekend was the exception however as the crew of a navy frigate, the Euro, delivered a baby girl whose heavily pregnant mother was among a group of would-be immigrants rescued off the south-west coast of Sicily.

Mother and daughter - who was named Yambambi Yete - were both reported to be doing fine after the on-board birth on Saturday.

The Euro was due to dock on Sunday in the southern port of Reggio Calabria where Yambambi and her family were to be placed in the care of local authorities.

Technically the new arrival was born on Italian sovereign territory - which may increase the family's chances of being allowed to stay in Europe.

Many migrants trying to reach Italy from Africa, often in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels operated by ruthless people traffickers, are fleeing strife in their countries of origin.

This year has seen a surge in the numbers attempting to make the hazardous crossing, with more than 100,000 having reached Italy since the turn of the year and nearly 2,000 having perished in the attempt, according to the UN refugee body UNHCR.

The implosion of Libya and conflicts in Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and Somalia have helped drive the upward trend, putting major pressure on Italy's rapid-reaction rescue operation, "Mare Nostrum", which the European Union has agreed to take over later this year.