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700 African Immigrants Drown Between Italy and Libya, Migrant Deaths Shame Europe

April 20, 2015 


Italian Coastal Guard vessel rescued scores of African immigrants but about 700 others drowned between Italy and Libya, April 19, 2015  


Hundreds drown off Libya, EU leaders forced to reconsider migrant crisis

Sun Apr 19, 2015 5:11pm EDT

PALERMO, Italy | By Antonio Denti

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) -

As many as 700 migrants were feared dead on Sunday after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean, raising pressure on Europe to face down anti-immigrant bias and find money for support as turmoil in Libya and the Middle East worsens the crisis.

If the death toll is confirmed, it will bring to 1,500 the total number of people who died this year seeking to reach Europe - a swelling exodus that prompted Europe to downsize its seek and rescue border protection program in a bid to deter them. International aid groups strongly criticized the decision.

After news of Sunday's disaster several government leaders called for emergency talks and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers would discuss the immigration crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. European Council President Donald Tusk said he was considering calling a special meeting of EU leaders, a summit that Renzi had called for earlier.

Meanwhile Italian and foreign ships and helicopters worked into the night to find possible survivors. So far 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies recovered, Italian authorities said.

The 20 meter-long vessel sank 70 miles from the Libyan coast, south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, as a large merchant ship approached it. A survivor told the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR that 700 people on board, hopeful the ship would save them, moved to one side, toppling the boat.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said details were still "nebulous" and that he couldn't estimate the total death count.

French President Francois Hollande said the EU had to do more, telling Canal+ television that rescue and disaster prevention efforts needed "more boats, more over flights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking."

"More EU countries must take responsibility for the refugee situation," said Sweden's Minister for Justice and migration Morgan Johansson. He called for an expansion of the EU's Triton border protection program, the scheme that recently replaced a broader search and rescue mission run by Italy.

The Italian "Mare Nostrum" was canceled last year because of the cost and because some politicians said it encouraged migrants to depart by raising their hopes of being rescued.

"It was an illusion to think that cutting off Mare Nostrum would prevent people from attempting this dangerous voyage," said the German government's representative for migration, refugees and integration, Aydan Ozoguz.

Yet Renzi warned that resolving the crisis was not only a matter of search and rescue at sea. He said a concerted international effort was needed to locate and stop people traffickers, many of whom have flourished during the chaos among warring clans in Libya.

"We mustn't leave the migrants at the mercy of criminals who traffic human beings," Renzi told the news conference. "We are asking not to be left alone."


Carlotta Sami, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said initial information about the capsized boat came from one of the survivors who spoke English.

This survivor "said that at least 700 people, if not more, were on board. The boat capsized because people moved to one side when another vessel that they hoped would rescue them approached," Sami said.

She later added that "several sources confirm the death of at least 700 people."

Renzi said Italian and foreign navy and coast guard vessels, patrol boats and merchant ships, as well as helicopters, were involved in the search-and-rescue operation, which was being coordinated by the Italian coast guard in Rome.

Maltese Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said the survivors and the corpses were on an Italian naval vessel coming to Malta, from where the survivors would continue on to Italy.

Pope Francis, who has spoken out repeatedly on the migrant crisis, repeated his call for quick and decisive action from the international community.

"They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life, they were looking for happiness," he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday noon address.

Aid groups have called for the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to ensure the safety of the migrants but in Italy there were also calls to stop the boats from leaving and even to destroy them.

The leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, called for an immediate naval blockade of the coast of Libya while Daniela Santanche, a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said Italy's navy must "sink all the boats."

Libya's lawless state, following the toppling of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has left criminal gangs of migrant smugglers free to send a stream of boats carrying desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates. That is fewer than in the first four months of last year, but the number of deaths has risen almost nine-fold.

Last week, around 400 migrants were reported to have died attempting to reach Italy from Libya when their boat capsized.

"A tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean, and if the EU and the world continue to close their eyes, it will be judged in the harshest terms as it was judged in the past when it closed its eyes to genocides when the comfortable did nothing," Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Paolo Biondi and Gavin Jones in Rome, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Chris Scicluna in Malta, Noah Barkin in Berlin, Laurence Frost in Paris,; writing by James Mackenzie and Gavin Jones; editing by Alessandra Galloni and Sophie Walker)


Migrant deaths may shame Europe over Mediterranean moat 

Sun Apr 19, 2015 9:19pm EDT  

BRUSSELS | By Alastair Macdonald

(Reuters) - The outrage Europe's leaders face over the deaths of hundreds of refugees trying to reach its shores may force a shift in a policy critics decry as letting people drown to deter others in desperate need.

The moat that the Mediterranean forms between Fortress Europe and less fortunate neighbors may become slightly less forbidding, even if the focus will still be to discourage the crossing in ways other than raising the risk of dying at sea.

Scrambling to respond to the deaths of up to 700 people on a fishing boat making for Italy from Libya, EU foreign ministers meet on Monday, and government leaders, some of whom are already calling for change, may also gather soon..

Yet they must grapple with a dilemma that prompted them to scale back a rescue operation in October on fears it had, in the words of the German interior minister, become "a bridge to Europe" for hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Governments beset by anti-immigrant parties now face a backlash for neglecting humanitarian disaster.

"The EU may have the means to rescue the refugees fleeing the hell of Syria and Libya, but it is letting them drown," German jurist Heribert Prantl wrote in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Europe is using dead refugees to shield itself from the others," he said. "Europe has battened down the hatches."

The speaker of the European Parliament spoke of "shame". And campaigners for refugees said they were encouraged that popular outcry could now bring change, albeit limited by self-interest on a continent fretful over unemployment and terrorist threats.

Easier access to asylum on the southern shore and a drive to end squabbling among EU states over who takes how many refugees are elements in a strategy the EU executive has been working on.

But in the short term, the death toll may be turning the tide in favor of those like Italian Prime Minister Mario Renzi who have been calling for more EU naval resources to save lives and against those who likened last year's Mare Nostrum rescue operation mounted by Italy as a "ferry service" for illegals.

"This issue of the deaths of migrants has finally made it to the international radar," said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Office for Migration in Geneva. "We're starting to see people react to the humanitarian aspect of it."


The British government has criticized a limited EU search-and-rescue mission, saying it could draw more migrants out to sea.

"They create an unintended 'pull factor', encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths," Joyce Anelay, a junior foreign minister, told parliament in London in October.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini also cited the "pull factor" in an internal paper, seen by Reuters, that will be put to foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. It is given as a downside risk to a proposal for possible EU naval patrols to combat Libyan oil and arms smuggling.

But the IOM's Doyle said: "There is no evidence we can see that there is a pull factor in having a life-saving mission."

Statistical evidence is unclear, said Niels Frenzen, a University of Southern California law professor who helped challenge the U.S. response to Haitian refugees in the 1990s.

While migrant numbers rose in the year after Italy began its Mare Nostrum operation in response to a mass drowning in 2013 off its island of Lampedusa, Frenzen said that also corresponded to a "push factor" from increasing violence in Syria and Libya.

Hostility to immigration, even from other EU states, had led to a "passive approach" by European leaders. They would, he said, also find it difficult to set up asylum camps in North Africa and the Middle East in the way U.S. authorities held Haitians at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba in the 1990s.

"We've got to be looking at a program that brings in hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "These camps become independent enclaves, and security issues are a nightmare."


Aside from chaos in Syria, Iraq or Libya - in part a result of European interventions there - a huge gulf in wealth across the Mediterranean will continue to draw economic migrants. EU per capita national income is 30 times that in a good many African states, a discrepancy 10 times greater than that on either side of the heavily patrolled U.S.-Mexican border.

But Ska Keller, who speaks on migration for the Greens in the European Parliament, saw popular pressure ending a "cynical" EU policy of "letting people drown".

"Just because those who against immigration are noisier doesn't mean they are the majority," she said. "I think there has been a shift."

Following the latest deaths, there was little renewal of past criticism of rescue operations. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called Sunday's sinking a "tragedy" and said the EU must step up efforts to coordinate migration strategy.

Anders Lustgarten, whose current London play "Lampedusa" examines how ordinary people can challenge the larger forces that drive desperate refugees and economic misery, excoriated the "moral myopia" and "malice by proxy" that he sees in the EU's cutting resources available to rescue migrants.

"The public backlash is the only thing that will stop it," he told Reuters.

And since his polemical piece on the refugee crisis in the Guardian last week was shared more than 12,000 times, he thinks that may be starting.

"Nothing will stop the EU beyond mass political pressure," he said, "and I think it's quite encouraging that there does seem to be today a really strong human reaction."

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)



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