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Baby drowns off Lampedusa after migrant boat capsizes

STORY: A five-month-old baby boy drowned during a rescue operation off the Italian island of Lampedusa after a boat carrying migrants capsized, Italian media reported on Wednesday.

The vessel that set off from Tunisia capsized shortly before it was intercepted by the Italian coastguard.

All of the other passengers were rescued, including the baby’s mother, local media reported.

The tragedy comes as migrant landings on Lampedusa surge, straining the small island’s ability to cope.

The island is Italy’s southernmost point and has long been a flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis.

It's often the first port of call for people crossing from North Africa.

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Most of those arriving stay at the island’s reception center, which has an official capacity of around 400.

On Wednesday alone, there were more than 1,800 new arrivals, bringing the number of migrants on Lampedusa to more than 6,700, according to local media.

The number of migrant boats arriving in Italy has surged since the start of the year, almost doubling what was recorded in the same period last year.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for “European solidarity” on the issue.

[Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General]

“This is a problem that is not only a problem of the countries that receive this influx, it's a problem of the European continent and in particular the European Union, and there must be mechanisms of solidarity and burden sharing that are effective in this regard."

Italy’s far-right government has taken a hard line against migration.

In July, it led the EU into striking a deal with Tunisia to stem migration flows. It is now pushing for similar agreements with other countries of origin and transit.

The government also targeted migrant rescue charities – impounding their boats and banning them from conducting multiple rescues.

Charities have been accused of working with human smugglers – something they strongly denied.