The Italian coast guard recovered the bodies of eight people as it rescued a further 84 from a dinghy that ran into trouble off Libya’s coast, it said on Saturday.
The coast guard said the migrants had been spotted by a plane patrolling the sea.
Migrant arrivals to Italy by sea fell by a third in 2017 compared to a year earlier, Reuters reported last month, as Libyan authorities helped to slow departures during the second half of the year.
More than 119,000 came to Italy by boat this year after a record 181,000 made the crossing in 2016, the ministry said in a statement. Since July, arrivals have declined by more than two thirds versus a year earlier.
In February, Italy signed an agreement with the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, promising aid, equipment and training in exchange for its help in fighting people smuggling. The deal was endorsed by the European Union.
Since then, armed groups supported by the Tripoli government have forced smugglers in the city of Sabratha – a key hub on the western coast – to stop sending out boats. Italy has also bolstered the Libyan coastguard’s ability to turn back boats.
But rights groups and humanitarian organisations operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean have criticised the policy, saying that it traps migrants in a country where they face appalling treatment, including rape, torture and forced labour.