Italy and Malta want crisis discussed as Maltese PM calls Mediterranean Sea a "cemetery" following latest boat accident.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Italy and Malta have urged European partners to do more to stop a
migrant crisis which the Maltese prime minister says has turned the
Mediterranean Sea into a "cemetery" after another boat sank off Sicily,
killing dozens more people.
The comments came a day after a boat packed with 250 migrants sank in
the Mediterranean Sea, killing 34 people, the latest in a string of
boat accidents involving migrants trying to enter Europe for a better
Italian and Maltese navy ships recovered the victims' bodies and rescued 206 migrants.
"I don't know how many more people need to die at sea before
something gets done," Joseph Muscat, Malta's prime minister, said in an
interview with the BBC.
He said he would join Italy in pressing for action at the next European Council.
"The fact is that as things stand, we are just building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea," Muscat said.
"Until now we have encountered statements, words but little more than that."
South of Sicily
The vessel sank about 60 nautical miles south of Sicily, nearly two
weeks after another boat carrying a larger number of passengers capsized
less than a kilometre from Lampedusa, a tiny island between Sicily and
Tunisia, killing at least 300 people.
Arrivals of migrants from North Africa have grown steadily over the
past two decades, with many making the journey in summer when the
Mediterranean is calmer.
This year the crisis has been exacerbated by instability in Egypt,
the civil war in Syria and chaos in Libya, the point of departure for
many of the boats.
Enrico Letta, the Italian prime minister, has already pressed for the
crisis to be included on the European Council agenda at its October
24-25 meeting, although Europe has long struggled to come up with a
comprehensive response to the crisis.
"We cannot continue like this," Letta told French radio station Europe 1 in an interview on Saturday.
"We're in a situation where what's happening in North Africa, Eritrea, Somalia, Syria presents us with a real emergency."
According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, about 32,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy and Malta
so far this year, about two thirds of whom have filed asylum requests.
Italy, deep in recession and pressed by EU budget rules to rein in
public spending, has seen its reception facilities on Lampedusa and
other parts of Sicily strained to breaking point and has called
repeatedly for more help to confront a crisis it says is a European
"There are too many arrivals and we are not in a condition to manage the disaster of the past few weeks," Letta said.
He said a common European policy was needed to handle the "explosion"
in Libya, where the government has struggled to impose its authority on
violent armed groups or stop the gangs that organise the clandestine
The hundreds of deaths have also set off a fierce political debate in
Italy over tough rules intended to combat clandestine immigration which
make it an offence to offer assistance to illegal migrant boats.
Cecilia Malstrom, European home affairs commissioner, called this
week for Europe's frontier agency Frontex to be strengthened to be able
to deploy search and rescue operations in a zone stretching from Cyprus
"In the aftermath of the Lampedusa tragedy we heard solidarity
expressions from all EU countries, but these will remain only empty
words if they are not followed by concrete actions," she said after