EU Foreign Ministers to Meet After Latest Migrant Tragedy

Colleen Barry, MSN, April 20, 2015

Rescue crews searched Monday for survivors and bodies from what could be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant tragedy ever as hundreds more migrants took to the sea undeterred and EU foreign ministers gathered for an emergency meeting to address the crisis.

If reports of at least 700 and as many as 900 dead are confirmed, the weekend shipwreck near the Libyan coast would bring to well over 1,000 the number of migrants who died or went missing during the perilous Mediterranean crossing in the last week. More than 400 are feared dead in another sinking. More than 10,000 others were rescued.

“This tragedy didn’t have to happen,” Sarah Tyler, a spokeswoman for Save the Children, said of Sunday’s incident. “That is almost as many as died in the Titanic, and 31 times the number who died when the Costa Concordia sank.”

Libya is a transit point for migrants fleeing conflict, repression and poverty in countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Syria, Iraq and Somalia, with increased instability there and improving weather prompting more people to attempt the dangerous crossing.

One survivor of the weekend sinking, identified as a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, has put the number of people on board the smugglers’ boat at as many as 950. Authorities previously had quoted him as saying 700 migrants were on board.

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The survivor said some 300 migrants were locked in a hold by the smugglers, and would have been trapped inside when the boat sank, according to Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, who is conducting the investigation.

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Italian coast guard Capt. Gian Luigi Bove told reporters in Malta his vessel was about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from the latest shipwreck when the distress call came in early Sunday.

Bove said the Italian vessel arrived at the shipwreck at around 2 a.m. Sunday and found two survivors along with bodies floating in the sea. The survivors were taken on board. He said there was no sign of the smuggler’s boat, an indication that it may have already sunk.

Bove said the survivors were from sub-Saharan Africa and language issues were impeding the investigation.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi told private Italian radio RTL he would ask his EU counterparts on Monday to confront instability in Libya more decisively than in the past, but he ruled out ground troops.

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Mired in economic crisis and a facing a surging anti-foreigner electorate in many nations, there is little appetite across European governments to take in more poor migrants, however desperate their plight.

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said sending more ships to rescue migrants could actually make the problem worse.

“If we make the work of traffickers easier and accept refugees that have gone overboard, this will make it an even better business for them,” he said on Czech television. “We need to find a way to prevent people from setting out on such ships.”

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