A fishing boat carrying 157 people, including 124 Syrians fleeing escalating violence in their country, was intercepted close to the southern Italian coast and towed to the port of Crotone late on Wednesday, police said.Also on board were 30 Afghans and three Turks, two of whom were arrested on suspicion of people smuggling. All were in good health and were transferred on Thursday to an immigration centre in the nearby Calabrian city of Isola Capo Rizzuto.

The refugees included more than 30 women and 40 children.

"We're still trying to determine where the boat departed from, but normally the ones that reach Crotone come from Greece," said a spokesman for the local prefect.

"So far, no one has requested asylum," he added. According to Italian law, if asylum is not granted, illegal immigrants must be repatriated.

The 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule in Syria has created a refugee crisis in Turkey and other neighbouring countries.

More than 2,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict have reached Turkey in the past two days, bringing the total number who have sought refuge there to more than 50,000, Turkish authorities said on Thursday.

Every year hundreds of boats carrying immigrants seeking work in continental Europe arrive on the southern Italian coast during the summer. Most of them come from North Africa or the Balkans.

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