5 October 2013

Africa: French PM Calls for Europe Meeting On Lampedusa Tragedy

Photo: Lucy Hannan/IRIN
Somali migrants on cliff, waiting for 3 days to sail, smugglers cove.

The French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has called for European leaders to urgently meet on border management issues after more than 100 asylum seekers died off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"European political officials must talk, and soon... It's up to them to meet and find a solution; compassion is not enough," Ayrault said on Saturday.

The accident "can only incite our compassion, our solidarity, but beyond words, I think it is important that Europe concerns itself with this particularly dramatic situation", he added.

A total of 111 bodies have been recovered from the boat, which was carrying between 450 and 500 African asylum-seekers - mostly Somalis and Eritreans - when it capsized on Thursday off Lampedusa, the first entry point to Italy from north Africa.

It is feared that the final death toll could be closer to 300, which would make this the worst ever Mediterranean refugee tragedy after a previous one in 1996, also off Italian shores, claimed 283 lives.

On Saturday Lampedusa fishermen took their boats out to sea in mourning for the victims who Prime Minister Enrico Letta announced would be awarded Italian nationality posthumously.

Rescuers said they planned to raise the wreck of the boat in the Mediterranean where rough seas have forced off the search for remaining corpses.

Italy has asked the European Union for greater assistance in stemming the influx of refugees, with 30,000 reported to have landed so far in 2013 -- more than four times the number for all of 2012.

The tragedy has exposed Europe's flawed migration and asylum policy, which places an unfair burden on the countries in southern Europe where asylum-seekers first arrive, observers said.

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