Valletta (Malta) March 29 (DPA) Two boats holding a total of 350 illegal immigrants arrived in Malta Monday from Libya, raising alarm bells of a mass exodus from the conflict-stricken country.
The second vessel, containing 250 people, arrived late Monday, following around 100 would-be migrants on board a boat that arrived earlier in the day.
The arrivals are the first on the small Mediterranean island-nation since the conflict in Libya began in February.
The Maltese army was alerted to the two boats by a French naval vessel.
Before Italy and Libya, through a 2008 pact, began deporting illegal immigrants intercepted in international waters, hundreds of people attempting to reach Europe from North Africa would arrive each year in Malta.
Officials in Malta – geographically the closest European Union state to Libya – and Italy have expressed concern about a possible massive new immigrant influx from Libya in the wake of the popular uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
Almost 18,000 mostly Tunisian migrants have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa since January, when an uprising toppled former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.