Migrant death toll may reach 30,000 this year - UN
Published 22/04/2015 | 02:30
Prosecutors have arrested the Tunisian captain and a Syrian crew member of a boat that capsized off the coast of Libya with hundreds of people aboard in the worst migrant tragedy in recent history.
The Tunisian captain of the boat survived and has been accused in Italy of reckless multiple homicide.
Prosecutors allege Mohammed Ali Malek (27) mistakenly steered his desperately overloaded boat into collision with a merchant vessel coming to its rescue.
Assistant Prosecutor Rocco Liguori said the two men were charged with favouring illegal immigration and that the captain was also charged with reckless multiple homicide in relation to the sinking.
The full scale of the migrant tragedy was revealed yesterday with the news that the number of refugees dying in Mediterranean Sea crossings could hit 30,000 this year alone, if the current rate continues.
The figures were released by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The deaths in 2015 so far are 30 times higher than the same period last year. The UN believes the sinking of one boat at the weekend killed as many as 950 people, making it the deadliest recorded sinking of a migrant boat. Spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva: "The 2015 death toll now is more than 30 times last year's total at this date... when just 56 deaths of migrants had been reported on the Mediterranean.
"The IOM now fears the 2014 total of 3,279 migrant [deaths] on the Mediterranean may be surpassed this year in a matter of weeks, and could well top 30,000 by the end of the year, based on the current death toll. It could actually be even higher."
More than 1,700 migrants are believed to have died so far in 2015. Officials in Sicily say two actions are suspected to have caused the migrant boat to capsize.
Even as the search continued for victims of the weekend disaster yesterday, coast guard ships rushed to respond to new distress calls on the high seas - two off Libya and a third boat that ran aground near Greece.
Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said an emergency EU leaders' summit can only begin to resolve the "appalling disaster" of migrants being drowned in the Mediterranean.
Mr Kenny said the numbers drowned last weekend off Malta and Italy were reminiscent of the scale of losses on Irish "coffin ships" in the wake of the famine.
Replying to Dáil questions from Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams, he said one million people had already fled Syria in fear of their lives and were marooned in Lebanon and Jordan without a proper humanitarian plan to help them.
He added that the problem was compounded by the lack of borders in Africa, with tens of thousands fleeing cruelty and oppression and their ruthless exploitation on ships "without captain, steward or compass".
"The scale of this problem is unprecedented in terms of numbers," Mr Kenny said.
Read more: More than 120 migrants reach Greek shores
Mr Kenny said Ireland will play its part relative to its resources and take more refugees from the stricken areas.
The Taoiseach said the EU countries were now committed to implementing a 10-point plan agreed by foreign and justice ministers in Luxembourg yesterday.
The EU has been under increasing criticism for lagging in its response to the crisis, with two shipwrecks believed to have taken the lives of as many as 1,300 migrants in the past week.
Some 400 people are believed to have drowned in another capsizing on April 13.