Friday, 11 October 2013

More than 60 feared dead as two more boats sink in the Mediterranean, 27 bodies recovered so far (update)

More than 60 people are feared dead tonight after two boats packed with migrants being smuggled across the Mediterranean into Europe sank.

One of the boats capsized off Lampedusa, the Italian island where 339 people drowned last week in one of the worst migrant shipping disasters in the Mediterranean which prompted demands in Europe for action against the smugglers.

In today’s tragedies more than 220 people were pitched into the water when their boat got into trouble off Lampedusa while more than 120 swam for their lives when a vessel capsized close to the port of Alexandria in Egypt.

A dozen people died off the Egyptian coast, with 116 people being rescued and taken to a nearby naval base. The coast guard said the survivors comprised 72 Palestinians, 40 Syrians, and four Egyptians.

But the scale of the tonight’s sinking off Lampedusa, in a chilling echo of last week’s disaster, was even worse, with early reports suggesting a death toll of 50. The Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at least 27 bodies had already been recovered, of which three are children.

The vessel was 65 miles south east of the island and a rescue mission was launched after a distress call was made from the boat on a satellite phone. The satellite coordinates pinpointed its position, said coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla.

A Maltese aircraft spotted the upturned boat and reported that scores of people were in the water. It dropped a life raft, and a patrol boat soon reached the area to start picking up survivors.

Mr Di Milla said "a good number" of the estimated 200 people had been rescued, but a Maltese government spokesman said rescue crews also reported seeing corpses in the water,.

The capsizing occurred a week after a migrant ship from Libya capsized and sank with some 500 people on board near and island off Lampedusa's coast. Only 155 survived. Recovery efforts continued Friday, bringing the toll up to 339, including a newborn with its umbilical cord still attached, Di Milla said.

In recent months increasing numbers of Syrian migrants have been fleeing Egypt – in large part due to the rising levels of discrimination and xenophobia which followed the popular coup against former President Mohamed Morsi.

A six day voyage to Sicily from north Africa can cost more than £2,000 per person, with many being forced to sell nearly everything they own to secure a spot on the cramped and over-crowded boats.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 3,400 refugees have attempted to make the crossing from Egypt to Europe since August this year.

Following the Lampedusa disaster last week, Italian divers were yesterday still trying to recover bodies from the wreckage of the sunken smugglers’ ship. The death toll is now at least 339, though some bodies are still thought to be missing. Survivors said there were around 500 people on board, while only 155 escaped alive.

Once in Italy, the migrants are screened for asylum and often sent back home if they don't qualify. During the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the arrivals were considered "economic migrants." But many of the latest arrivals are fleeing persecution and conflict in places such as Syria and Egypt, and qualify for refugee status, UN officials say.

Many eventually end up in northern Europe's larger and more organized immigrant communities.

During a visit to Lampedusa this week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso promised Italy some 30 million euro in EU funds to better care for newly arrived migrants, and Italian officials pledged to put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming European Union summit and on the EU agenda next year, when Italy and Greece hold the EU presidencies.

Some 30,100 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.

Friday 11 October 2013


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