Pope seeks intervention after new migrant tragedy
Pope Francis has demanded "every possible measure" be taken to protect young refugees, as search and rescue efforts continued off Libya's coast following the latest deadly Mediterranean migrant shipwreck in which almost 100 people died.
Italy's coast guard said only four people survived the sinking of a migrant ship 50km off the Libyan coast on Saturday. Only eight bodies have been recovered.
In his noon blessing, Francis recalled that the theme of the church's World Day of Migrants concerned the particular vulnerability of young migrants - "our young brothers" who often flee home alone and face "so many dangers".
"We must adopt every possible measure to guarantee young migrants' protection and defence, as well as integration," he said.
The UN refugee agency has reported a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors reaching Italy: 25,846 last year, more than double the previous year. Aid groups say if these young people survive the crossing, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by land-based traffickers once they reach Europe.
Two dead reached Italian shores yesterday as the rescue ship Aquarius pulled into port in Messina, Sicily, with some 300 migrants from rescue operations on Friday.
Usually, bad weather and rough seas deter Libyan-based smugglers from launching overloaded boats full of migrants bound for Italy. But Italy's coast guard reported 550 people were rescued on Friday and another 800 on Thursday.