Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

Hundreds of EU-bound migrants drown near Libya

  • Tripoli: Some 400 are feared dead in the latest tragedy (Photo: Sebastia Giralt)

Charity group Save the Children on Tuesday (14 April) estimated that some 400 people died after a boat capsized en route to Italy from Libya.

Survivors say it was carrying around 550 passengers, many of them unaccompanied children. It overturned 24 hours after leaving the Libyan coastline on Monday.

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One 17-year old Eritrean, who was among the survivors, told the charity they had been holed up in a sardine factory in Tripoli for the past four months. Many were tortured to extort money from families.

“They made you call home, saying you were dying, and in the meantime they beat you up so that your family could hear the screams," he said.

The Italian coastguard on Monday rescued 144 people, but found no other survivors.

The EU's border agency, Frontex, said Monday's rescue attempt was complicated by smugglers who fired shots into the air to ward off the approaching coastguard vessel.

Smugglers are known to recuperate emptied migrants boats for later use. But in one incident off the Maltese coast last year, some 500 drowned after smugglers reportedly rammed and sank the boat.

If confirmed, Monday’s death toll is higher than the October 2013 Lampadusa tragedy that spurred Italy to launch its now defunct search and rescue naval operation, Mare Nostrum.

The operation rescued over 150,000 people over 12 months.

A much smaller and less well equipped EU-led Triton surveillance mission took over in November last year, but it is unable to cope with the demands.

The European Commission, for its part, on Tuesday described the influx of migrants and refugees as unprecedented and as a new norm.

“We will need to adjust our responses accordingly,” migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told lawmakers at the European parliament.

Avramopoulos said third countries like Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia need to be involved.

“This cannot be a one-way relationship. Third countries must also see the benefits of working with us on migration,” he said.

The Brussels-executive is set to unveil a broad policy response on migration near the end of May.

But calm seas and good weather has seen a recent surge in the number of people making the perilous journey that critics say require a more immediate response.

Some 8,000 people were rescued in Italian waters since the beginning of April, with over 1,500 arriving in southern Italy during the Easter break alone.

Many others, including Syrians, are also ending up in overstretched receptions centres on Greece’s Dodecanese islands.

International aid organisation Medicin Sans Frontiers earlier this week said some 100 are arriving on a daily basis.

“We are not yet in the peak season which usually falls from July to September. This certainly has rung the alarm bells for all of us that more people will need to be assisted in the summer months to come,” said Stathis Kyrousis, MSF head of mission in Greece.

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Select EU leaders met amid rising tension over migration, with Italy's PM, who had threatened to boycott the summit, putting forward a new plans to stop boats from leaving Libya.

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