Date
27 May 2017
European leaders are alarmed at the growing number of deadly accidents involving migrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. In the latest tragedy, 700 are feared dead. Photo: UNHCR
European leaders are alarmed at the growing number of deadly accidents involving migrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. In the latest tragedy, 700 are feared dead. Photo: UNHCR

EU leaders seek talks after hundreds of migrants drown off Libya

As many as 700 migrants were feared dead on Sunday after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean.

If confirmed, the death toll will bring to 1,500 the total number of people who died this year seeking to reach Europe, Reuters reported Monday.

The tragedy raised pressure on Europe to face down anti-immigrant bias and find money for support as turmoil in Libya and the Middle East worsens the immigration crisis.

The swelling exodus prompted Europe to downsize its seek-and-rescue border protection program in a bid to deter them. International aid groups strongly criticized the decision.

After news of Sunday’s disaster, several government leaders called for emergency talks.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers would discuss the immigration crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he was considering calling a special meeting of EU leaders, a summit that Renzi had called for earlier.

Meanwhile Italian and foreign ships and helicopters worked into the night to find any survivors. So far, 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies recovered, Italian authorities said.

The 20-meter vessel sank 70 miles from the Libyan coast, south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, as a large merchant ship approached it.

A survivor told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 700 people on board, hopeful the ship would save them, moved to one side, toppling the boat.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said details were still “nebulous” and that he couldn’t estimate the total death count.

French President Francois Hollande said the EU had to do more, telling Canal+ television that rescue and disaster prevention efforts needed “more boats, more over flights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking”.

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RC/RA

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