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Migrant Sinking Kills 34 As More Boats Spotted

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Italian navy has rescued 183 migrants from a fishing boat in the Mediterranean as at least 140 Syrians arrived in Malta after being rescued from another sinking boat yesterday.

Among the migrants, who come from Nigeria, Syria and Tunisia, are 34 women and 49 children. Other rescue operations are also currently ongoing.

Some 34 people, including three children, are understood to have died on Friday as the overloaded vessel went down between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

It was the second such tragedy in the region in a week.

Speaking to Sky News, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said: "At least 34 people died last night, many more are expected to be found dead in the next couple of hours.

"The difference to last week's tragedy is that, instead of Somalia, they hail from Syria, which makes the case even more complicated and shows the immense human tragedy the Mediterranean is experiencing right now."

The Maltese navy dispatched rescue ships and helicopters and diverted commercial vessels to the area to assist the Syrians, while Italy sent two naval vessels and helicopters carrying inflatable life rafts.

Helicopters airlifted the injured to Lampedusa Hospital where a large medical team treated them as soon as they arrived.

Hospital director Pietro Bertolo told journalists: "They are wet and very scared, but they are doing well."

He added that among the migrants was a "little boy, around two years, who is very beautiful" with his "young" mother.

After the rescue, Mr Muscat warned: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery."

And he told Sky News that this week's tragedies were an indication of what he described as the bigger problem north African migration was playing in the region.

"The rules the EU have were drafted in the 80s and 90s when the situation was completely different," he said. "We are using the tools of the past to face a problem that is very new.

"Our forces and the Italian forces are guarding European borders but we're left on our own and we feel totally abandoned by Europe and we're hearing only empty talk from Brussels."

The EU's asylum policy has been criticised for being overly restrictive and it is claimed that is forcing refugees to resort to desperate measures to reach Europe.

Italy has appealed to EU states for help in coping with the thousands of migrants arriving in the country every month, and wants migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels at the end of the month.

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem said she was following the rescue operations "with sadness and anxiety".

"These new horrible events are happening while we still have the shocking images of the tragedy in Lampedusa in our minds," she said, adding the latest disaster highlighted the need for expanded search and rescue operations "to better detect and assist boats in distress".

The sinking came as Italian divers found another body from last week's  shipwreck off Lampedusa, raising the death toll in the tragedy to 339.

Only 155 survivors were rescued out of an estimated 500 people, most of them Eritreans and Somalis, on the boat which departed from Libya.

Immigration charities estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years.


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