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French patrol boat rescues 297 migrants off Italian coast

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PARIS, May 20 (Reuters) - A French Navy patrol ship rescued 297 migrants from a fishing boat in the southern Mediterranean on Wednesday, French police said, the latest in a stream of more than 50,000 migrants to have entered Europe by sea this year.

The crew of the Commandant Birot provided food and water to the group, which included 51 women and children, and 16 people received medical treatment, the police statement said.

The 20-metre vessel was discovered about 300 km (190 miles) from the Italian coast by an Italian spotter plane.

The migrants, whose nationalities were not given, were due to be taken to a destination in Italy.

Around 30,500 of the migrants from Africa or the Middle East who have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year have landed in Italy, and about 1,800 have drowned in the attempt, the U.N. refugee agency says.

The deaths, including the drowning of up to 900 on a single vessel last month, have jolted European governments into expanding their rescue operations.

However, a European Commission plan to share out the burden of handling asylum requests, of which there were more than 600,000 last year, among EU member states has already triggered objections from opponents of immigration.

(Reporting by Marine Pennetier; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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