Tuesday, 13 May 2014

At least 14 die as migrant boat headed for Italy sinks off Libyan coast

At least 17 people died when a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank in waters between Libya and southern Italy, navy officials say.

Some 200 others were rescued from the boat, which went down south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

This comes a day after it emerged that 36 migrants drowned last week when their boat sank off the Libyan coast.

Libya is used as a departure point by many African migrants trying to enter the European Union illegally.

The boat sank on Monday about 185 km (115 miles) south of Lampedusa, Italy's Ansa news agency said.

An Italian navy spokesperson said it was not clear how many people were on board, so the number of missing passengers was unknown, AP news agency reported.

A tug boat servicing nearby oilrigs saw that the migrant boat was in trouble. As it went to help, the vessel capsized.

The rescue operation was conducted under an Italian military and humanitarian program called Mare Nostrum, Latin for “our sea,” the Roman name for the Mediterranean. The program is meant to control the flow of migrants who try to enter Europe by boat, and to assist vessels in distress. It has been monitoring the southern Mediterranean since last October, after a boat sank off the small Italian island of Lampedusa and 350 migrants died. Continue reading the main story

The Mare Nostrum program has come under political attack in recent weeks because of a surge in migrants reaching Italy, putting a severe strain on the government’s resources for receiving them. Critics said that about 9 million euros ($12.4 million) a month was too costly and not effective enough: as of Monday, 36,627 migrants had landed along Italy’s southern coast in 2014, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Most came from Africa or the Middle East.

Italy has been calling on the European Union to do more to help the country deal with the inflow, and Angelino Alfano, the interior minister, added his voice on Monday. “Europe isn’t helping us,” he said, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. “While Italy was saving survivors of the shipwreck,” he added, Europe “must take care of the living.”

Roberta Pinotti, the defense minister, told Parliament last week that since it began last October, Mare Nostrum had saved the lives of 27,790 migrants, including more than 3,000 children, and had arrested 207 people for human trafficking. “The numbers are shocking,” Ms. Pinotti told lawmakers, “but let’s think of how tragic the count of the loss of human lives could have been.”

Flavio Di Giacomo, the Italian spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said that “Mare Nostrum has saved many lives, but it’s clear that these trips are dangerous, so shipwrecks are not possible to avoid.”

Nine out of 10 refugees who enter Italy by sea pass through Libya, a former Italian colony and the closest part of North Africa to Italian territory, Ms. Pinotti said. More than two-thirds of them could qualify for political refugee status.

The flood of migrants is a major issue in Italy, one that the populist Northern League has made a cornerstone of its campaign in the European Parliament elections later this month. One candidate created a video in which migrants from various countries are seen warning their compatriots that Italy is not the Promised Land and that the traffickers who would smuggle them across the sea by boat “are assassins and fraudsters.”

Separately, Libya's navy said it had rescued 340 migrants from another boat after it began to take in water off the coast of the western town Sabratha, AFP reported.

On Sunday, Libyan officials said at least 36 migrants from various sub-Saharan African countries drowned when their boat sank off the Libyan coast last week.

Late last year, hundreds of migrants drowned when two boats sank in waters off Lampedusa. Italy has since stepped up navy and coastguard operations.

Unseaworthy, overcrowded vessels are continually setting out from Libya, carrying people who hope for better lives in Europe after fleeing war and poverty in various parts of Africa and the Middle East, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome report

Tuesday 13 May 2014




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