19th Mar 2018

Migrant deaths prompt calls for greater EU-wide response

  • Some 30,000 people have attempted to cross over the Mediterranean and into Italy this year alone (Photo: noborder network)

The migrant and refugee boat tragedies off Europe’s Mediterranean coast have prompted Italy to step up border patrols and for Malta to ask for more assistance from member states and the EU.

Enrico Letta, Italy’s prime minister, said they are set to launch an “air and naval package” on Monday (14 October), reports the BBC.

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The additional police and coastguard vessels would triple Italian-led patrols in the area.

The primary purpose of the extra patrols would be to rescue migrants, noted Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino.

By the end of September, some 30,000 people had attempted to cross over the Mediterranean and into Italy this year alone.

Many are fleeing poverty, war, and persecution.

The official death toll of the migrant boat tragedy off the Italian island last week has since climbed to over 350.

Another 33 died on Friday in a separate incident as their boat capsized in international waters between Malta and the Italian island.

The boat was transporting 400 people. Some were migrants but most are said to be refugees from war-torn Syria.

The boat, which had debarked from the western Libyan port of Zwara, sank after Libyan gunmen shot at it.

The Libyan militiamen reportedly robbed the passengers, followed the boat for several hours, and then opened fire.

A Syrian survivor, one of 200 rescued by a joint-Maltese and Italian operation, told the AFP that bullet holes caused the boat to flood.

For his part, Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat told the Guardian in an interview that he hoped the two disasters would kick-start the political will among other EU member states to help end the tragedies.

“If nothing changes, we will be reporting more deaths next year and there will be consternation for a couple of days, a couple of headlines, but then we will return to life as usual,” Muscat told the Guardian.

Muscat went to Libya Sunday where he met with prime minister Ali Zeidan to discuss the problem.

The Maltese prime minister said Libya, where most of the migrants debark from to Malta and Italy, must be involved to help find a lasting solution.

Meanwhile, Finland has offered support.

Finnish broadcaster Yle reports the Nordic country has pledged to send some twenty specialists, a surveillance aircraft, and patrol boats to Italy in a broader effort to step up co-ordinated patrols by the EU border agency, Frontex.

A deputy chief in Finland’s Interior Ministry’s Border Guard Department said they are calculating operational costs as they consider whether to also send a small Dornier aircraft surveillance aircraft to the area.

The European Commission, for its part, wants to increase Frontex search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain, to better detect and assist boats in distress.

“In the aftermath of the Lampedusa tragedy we heard solidarity expressions from all EU countries, but these will remain only empty words if they are not followed by concrete actions,” said EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

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