(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.
Source: Reuters and Telegraph