EU debates steps to curb migrant surge

 27 Aug 2014 - 1:56

A migrant holds a child before getting off a coast guard ship at the Sicilian harbour of Augusta yesterday. 

ROME: Italy’s navy said yesterday that 24 corpses had been recovered from the latest capsize of a boat carrying migrants from Africa, as EU officials debated how to stem a surge in the numbers dying in perilous efforts to reach European shores.
More than 300 would-be immigrants have been killed and another 4,000 rescued at sea since Friday, according to navy figures. The death toll since the start of the year is nearing 2,000.
The latest disasters have heightened the Italian government’s determination to get more support from its European Union partners in dealing with a crisis that has been exacerbated by the worsening security situation in Libya.
The 24 bodies were recovered after a fishing boat with nearly 400 people onboard turned over off Libya on Sunday.
Lifeboats dropped from a helicopter dispatched from the Italian island of Lampedusa enabled 364 people to survive.
Talks on the issue were being held in Rome yesterday between officials representing Italy, the European Commission and Frontex, the European borders agency.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano is due in Brussels today for further discussions with Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
Malmstroem has backed Italy’s calls for more support from other EU governments, but they have so far fallen on deaf ears in most capitals.
On Friday, a 50-foot wooden boat carrying at least 270 people sank off Guarabouli, Libya. Only 19 of those on board are known to have survived. The others, mostly migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, are presumed to have perished.
On Sunday morning, an inflatable dinghy was found floating adrift off Lampedusa. Eighteen corpses were found along with 73 survivors.
In that case, Italian authorities have ordered autopsies to establish the exact causes of death as some of the corpses had injuries which appeared to have resulted from being struck with metal bars.
The navy was Monday engaged in another rescue operation after two more dinghies carrying large numbers of people got into trouble in waters south of Sicily.
According to the UN refugee body UNHCR, more than 100,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat since the start of the year, nearly twice the number that arrived in 2011, when much of North Africa was convulsed by the Arab Spring revolutions.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the implosion of Libya was fuelling the trend and urged EU governments to do more.
“The worsening security situation there (in Libya) is fostering the growth of ruthless smuggling operations,” Fleming said.
“It’s also prompted some refugees and migrants who are living in Libya, who otherwise may not have decided to leave, to leave.”
Fleming added: “Obviously, with all of these deaths, more needs to be done.”
The refugees in Libya have made their way there from various strife-torn countries, most notably Eritrea, Syria and Somalia. Fleming said more were now beginning to arrive from northern Iraq.
Two major shipwrecks last October prompted Italy to launch a rapid-reaction navy operation known as “Mare Nostrum”. It is now pushing for the EU to take over the operation and share the financing.