More than 400 Syrian refugees reach Italy

It's estimated that more than 3,300 refugees have arrived in Italy since the beginning of August.

FILE:A group of rebels on a tank in Darkoush, Syria. Picture: Rahima Essop/EWN.

ROME - More than 400 Syrian refugees were intercepted near Sicily over the past 24 hours and one woman died during the passage, according to Italy's Coast Guard.

A first boat carrying 299 people, more than half of them women and children, was escorted to the port of Syracuse, Sicily, late on Friday.

On board was the corpse of a 22-year-old woman who died during the journey.

The reason for her death is still unknown but fellow refugees said she was a diabetic and had died after falling ill more than two days earlier.

The people on the boat said they had left from Egypt about a week ago.

Another boat was located overnight carrying a further 124 people who also said they were Syrian refugees.

The coast guard escorted it to a Sicilian port early on Saturday.

From the start of the year to the first week of this month, 21,870 illegal immigrants or refugees have arrived on the shores of southern Italy, three times as many as the same period a year ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said recently.

The number of Syrian refugees reaching Italy has increased steadily in recent months and the UN estimates that 3,300 have arrived since the start of August.

More than two million refugees have now fled Syria's civil war, mainly to neighbouring Iraq, Jordan,Turkey and Lebanon. The two-and-a-half-year conflict is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people.