Updated | NGOs call for safe, legal access to Europe after migrant tragedy

Survivors tell charity Save the Children that as many as 400 migrants may have died in the Mediterranean sea

File photo
File photo

As many as 400 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean sea between Saturday and Monday, according to chilling interviews survivors gave to charity Save the Children.

The deaths are believed to have occurred during a shipwreck 24 hours after leaving Libya, which is plagued by violence and civil war, in an attempt to reach Italy.

The boat was carrying about 550 migrants in total, according to some of the 150 survivors who were rescued and brought to a southern Italian port on Tuesday morning, Save the Children reported.

During the first four months of 2015, more the 500 migrants perished while crossing the Mediterranean, a 47% spike in numbers according to the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Italian officials said more than 8,000 people were rescued between over the past five days.

Save the Children said that among those rescued were about 450 children, 317 of whom were not accompanied by adults.

The survivors of the latest shipwreck were mostly sub-Saharan Africans. It is not clear exactly when the boat had capsized.

Save the Children, the IOM and other humanitarian organisations have called for the European Union to bolster its sea rescue operations before the migrant flows soar as they usually do in the summer months.

Italy, which handled the largest number of migrant arrivals in the EU, has become increasingly alarmed about the breakdown of law and order in Libya, which has greatly exacerbated the task of tackling the migrant flows.

Libya is home to two rival governments, and amid efforts for the formation of a national unity government, the Islamic State threat continues to rear its head. Only yesterday, Libya’s IS affiliate claimed responsibility for a bomb placed in a garbage bin targeting the Moroccan Embassy in Tripoli.

NGOs react

A group of NGOs called for more to be done to prevent tragedies at sea.

In a collective press statement, aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Foundation for Shelter and Support of Migrants, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant’s Network for Equality, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, Peace Lab, People for Change Foundation and SOS Malta urged Maltese and EU authorities to uphold their legal and moral responsibilities. 

"This recent incident, like all other maritime tragedies, urges us to direct our grief to seeking ways of preventing their repetition. It is unacceptable that the Mediterranean Sea, our own immediate environment, keeps accumulating corpses of men, women and children who are desperately seeking to be safe, to live a more stable life, to reunite with their loved ones, to be free from persecution," the statement reads.

"Once again, we urgently call upon the European Union and all Member States to prevent such incidents by doing their utmost to secure safe and legal access to Europe. "