Monday 26 February 2018

'They were swallowed by the waves'

Hundreds of migrants feared dead in latest Mediterranean tragedy

UN body criticises EU Triton mission as ineffective
UN body criticises EU Triton mission as ineffective

James Rush

At least 300 migrants are feared dead after their boats sank while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the UN refugee agency has said after speaking to survivors.

Nine people from two different boats were rescued by an Italian tug boat on Monday and brought to the Lampedusa island on Wednesday morning.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees initially said the survivors informed them at least a further 203 people from three rubber boats were missing.

UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy Carlotta Sami said the 203 people, including a 12-year-old boy, had been "swallowed up by the waves."

Ms Sami has now said the survivors have confirmed a fourth rubber boat left Libya on Sunday. In a statement, the UNHCR said this means some 300 people are missing.

The new EU border patrol operation has been criticised by the UN, Save the Children and other aid organisations as inadequate for saving lives. Italy's Mare Nostrum operation was taken over by the EU last year.

Patrols by the EU's Triton mission however take place only a few miles off Italy's coast, while Italian rescue ships went up close to the coast of Libya as part of the Mare Nostrum patrols.

Laurens Jolles, head of the U.N. agency for southern Europe, said in a statement: "The Triton operation doesn't have as its principal mandate saving human lives, and thus cannot be the response that is urgently needed."

Including the 300 estimated to have been in the four missing boats, almost 30 times as many people have died since the beginning of 2015 compared to the same period last year, Reuters has reported.

UNHCR Europe Bureau Director Vincent Cochetel has said in a statement: "This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea.

"Saving lives should be our top priority. Europe cannot afford to do too little too late."


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