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Europe turning Mediterranean into 'cemetery', says Maltese PM

Sunday, October 13, 2013

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Joseph Muscat calls for southern European refugee crisis to be put on agenda for upcoming EU summit.

Europe is turning the Mediterranean into a "cemetery", the Maltese prime minister has warned, amid mounting calls for urgent EU action to prevent further migrant deaths on Europe's southern rim.

After a desperate week for refugees fleeing Africa on wretchedly unreliable vessels, Joseph Muscat said he would join others in calling for the crisis to be put on the EU's agenda at its summit on 24 October.

"I don't know how many more people need to die at sea before something gets done," Muscat told the BBC. "The fact is that as things stand, we are just building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea," he said. "Until now we have encountered statements, words but little more than that."

Enrico Letta, the prime minister of Italy, which has borne the brunt of the migrant influx, told French radio on Saturday: "We cannot continue like this. We're in a situation where what's happening in North Africa, Eritrea, Somalia, Syria presents us with a real emergency."

The interventions came after another 34 bodies were recovered from the latest stricken vessel, which sank south of Sicily on Friday. More than 200 passengers were rescued. Meanwhile, a further 19 bodies were found in a boat that sank last week, bringing the death toll from that incident to 358. In a third shipwreck, another 12 migrants died when their boat foundered off the Egyptian coast.

Italian naval spokesman Commander Marco Maccaroni said his units also rescued some 180 people from other boats in the same area overnight in a further indication of the relentless flows of migrants braving the Mediterranean.

"The flows have never stopped, especially over the summer months," Maccaroni said. "The two accidents in such a short period have raised the attention of the public, but the tensions have been going on all summer."

More thann 30,000 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.

The UN secretary-general, Ban-Ki-moon, called for action to prevent future tragedies "that places the vulnerability and human rights of migrants at the centre", while Pope Francis lamented that "too often we are blinded by our comfortable lives, and refuse to see those dying at our doorstep".

At least 70,000 Syrians are registered in Egypt as refugees. Many, including thousands of Palestinians who fled the war in Syria, are not registered and use the country as a stopover before making the perilous sea trip to Europe.


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