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EU To Hold Emergency Talks After Migrant Sea Disaster

  • RFE/RL

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says EU foreign ministers are set to hold emergency talks on African and Middle East migration to Europe with hundreds of migrants feared dead from a boat capsizing off the Libyan coast.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says about 50 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea after a large boat carrying an estimated 700 people seeking to go to Europe overturned during the night on April 18-19.

At least two dozen bodies had been recovered as rescue workers pulled people from the waters near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said emergency crews are "literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water."

If the hundreds of deaths are confirmed, it would be the worst such disaster in the Mediterranean and would bring the number of those drowned trying to make it to Europe this year to at least 1,500.

Amnesty International called the incident a predictable "man-made tragedy."

Mogherini said the migrant issue would be discussed at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on April 20.

"We have said too many times 'never again,'" Mogherini said. "Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay."

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the EU cannot "remain insensitive when every day there is a massacre in the Mediterranean."

French President Francois Hollande said the EU must do more to prevent such disasters from occuring.

He said on April 19 that rescue and disaster prevention efforts need "more boats, more overflights, and a much more intense battle against people trafficking."

Swedish Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson said "More EU countries must take responsibility for the refugee situation."

About 20,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have reached Italy this year, the International Organization for Migration estimates.

But more than 400 migrants were also presumed drowned last week when another boat capsized.

Pope Francis urged world leaders on April 19 to "act decisively and quickly to stop these tragedies from recurring."

Most of the boats -- which are organized by human traffickers who receive large fees from the migrants for a trip to Europe -- originate in Libya and carry people from Northern African countries like Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia as well as from Syria.

Most of the migrants are seeking work in Europe or are fleeing violence in conflict regions.

A rescued migrant from the boat said the ship capsized when hundreds of people stampeded to one side in hopes of boarding a passing boat to get off their overcrowded ship.

Many people are calling for the restoration of an Italian Navy search and rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum, which was suspended last year largely because of its cost to Italy.

It was replaced with a much small EU-run operation called Triton which has only a fraction of the capacity as Mare Nostrum and operates only very close to the Italian border.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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