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05.05.2015 Africa

Italy again calls for EU help after more migrant deaths

By Ljubomir Milasin
The Italian coastguard says it has rescued nearly 6,000 people in recent days as they try to cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats.  By Jason Florio (Migrant Offshore Aid Station/AFP)
LISTEN MAY 5, 2015
The Italian coastguard says it has rescued nearly 6,000 people in recent days as they try to cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats. By Jason Florio (Migrant Offshore Aid Station/AFP)

Rome (AFP) - Around 40 migrants died when their inflatable boat sank off the coast of Italy, which Tuesday renewed an appeal to the EU for help in managing a relentless wave of arrivals.

Survivors of the tragedy reported 137 people were on the vessel when it either deflated or exploded shortly before a spate of rescue operations this weekend that saw the Italian navy and coastguard save almost 6,000 people on the sea.

"Some (of the survivors from the inflatable boat) said 'very many' died, others said 'around 40'", Giovanna di Benedetto of Save the Children told AFP on Tuesday.

Italian leaders anticipate a record number of arrivals on their southern shores between now and September, with last year's total of 170,000 already an unprecedented number.

"It's not enough to add 10 or so boats to those (operated) by the Italians," said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

He also demanded the European Union help in the fight against human trafficking and make reforms to the process of granting asylum to migrants.

At least 10 people died in recent shipwrecks, adding to an estimated total of more than 1,750 migrants who have perished in the waters between Libya and Italy since the start of this year.

The International Organization for Migration reported last month that the toll represented a 30-fold increase over 2014.

Gentiloni said Monday that promises made at April's EU summit after a migrant boat disaster left 750 dead had to be honoured.

"A European emergency cannot continue to have only Italian responses," he added.

This weekend's surge in the number of boats leaving Libya was put down to the fine weather and calm sea conditions.

- Baby born aboard ship -

The survivors whose harrowing experience was reported Tuesday were part of a group of close to 200 migrants who were on two separate boats and were rescued in recent days in waters off Sicily.

The survivors arrived on Tuesday in Catania on the east coast of Sicily, on the cargo ship "Zeran", which also carried five bodies.

On Monday more than 3,000 migrants landed in southern Italian ports, including a baby girl born on board the Italian navy patrol ship Bettica.

Her mother had gone into labour just before leaving Libya aboard one of four barely seaworthy boats whose occupants were rescued by the Bettica.

Aid agencies say a large number of those attempting the Mediterranean crossing have legitimate claims to asylum in Europe as they are fleeing conflict or repression in places including Syria and Eritrea.

On April 19, some 750 migrants were killed when their trawler sank between Libya and southern Italy, sparking global outrage and demands for action.

Four days later EU leaders tripled the bloc's budget for patrols off Libya and mooted the idea of military action against smugglers. The latter option is seen as unlikely to secure the UN approval it would require.

In a rare example of conflict-wracked Libya attempting to stem the migrant flow, five boats which set off at the weekend were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and sent to the city of Misrata.

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