Friday 23 February 2018

Dozens feared drowned after latest migrant ship capsizes off Italian coast

A group of illegal emigrants are detained after Libyan coast guards caught them attempting to flee the coast to Europe, in Zawia, west of Tripoli, May 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY IMMIGRATION CRIME LAW)
A group of illegal emigrants are detained after Libyan coast guards caught them attempting to flee the coast to Europe, in Zawia, west of Tripoli, May 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY IMMIGRATION CRIME LAW)

Nick Squires and Richard Spencer

Dozens of migrants were feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean yesterday after a boat carrying up to 400 people capsized.

Italian naval and coastguard vessels rushed to the scene of the accident, about 100 miles south of the island of Lampedusa, Italy's farthest-flung territory, which has attracted tens of thousands of desperate asylum seekers and migrants from Africa and the Middle East in recent years.

The boat full of migrants had set off from the coast of Libya, from where dozens of similar vessels have attempted the crossing to Lampedusa and Sicily.

The accident happened as Libya warned that it might have to allow even more refugees to try to reach Europe because it could not contain the numbers reaching its territory in search of passage.

The Italian coastguard said that about 200 people had been rescued by two commercial vessels operating in the area, but, with many other people still missing, there were fears that the number would rise significantly.

By last night, 14 bodies had been recovered.

The navy and coastguard ships that went to the scene were part of Operation Mare Nostrum, an effort to intercept and rescue migrant boats trying to cross from North Africa to Italian shores.

It was launched last October after 350 Eritrean migrants drowned when their boat capsized at night within sight of Lampedusa. So far, about 25,000 people have been rescued this year alone, putting immense strain on the Italian military, as well as civilian refugee reception centres in Sicily and on the Italian mainland.

Critics say the operation is encouraging more migrants to try to make the crossing because they know they will be rescued by the Italians.

Exodus

Italian politicians said their recession-hit country could not cope with the exodus of refugees and called for urgent assistance from the EU.

"This is a humanitarian emergency that we cannot deal with on our own," said Simona Bonafe, from the Democratic Party, the main partner in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

"We need a concrete and strong intervention by Europe. It's clear that Operation Mare Nostrum, while it has saved many lives, is not enough by itself."

Over the weekend, at least 36 immigrants died after a makeshift boat was wrecked off Libya's coast.

Tripoli warned that unless it received much more help from the EU, it might have to allow tens of thousands more migrants to leave its shores. "I'm warning the world, and Europe in particular, if they do not assume their responsibilities, Libya could facilitate the transit of this flood," said Salah Mazek, the interim interior minister.

Othman Belbeisi, the Libya representative of the International Organisation for Migration, last month said there were an estimated two million migrants in the country. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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