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IMMIGRATION - EU

Italy and Malta dispatch ships in response to migrants’ distress calls

Marina Militare, AFP | In this handout picture released by the Italian Navy on December 4, 2014 migrants sit in a boat during a rescue operation off the coast of Sicily
3 min

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Monday it had received a distress call from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean carrying more than 300 people, with at least 20 people reported dead.

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Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said Italian and Maltese ships had responded on Monday to the latest migrant emergency off the Libyan coast.

Renzi told a joint press conference with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that ships from the two European countries were responding to distress calls from an inflatable life-raft with 100 to 150 aboard, and to another boat with 300 people on board.

Renzi’s announcement came after IOM's Rome office revealed it had received a call for help from one of three boats floating near each other in international waters, spokesman Joel Millman said.

"The caller said that there are over 300 people on his boat and it is already sinking (and) he has already reported fatalities, 20 at least," his colleague in Rome, Federico Soda, wrote in an email.

Officials have calculated that around 700 people died over the weekend when a European-bound boat capsized near Libya’s coast, but accounts by witnesses suggested that as many as 950 people may have perished in the tragedy.

European Council President Donald Tusk is to host an emergency summit on the migration crisis on Thursday.

"I have decided to call an extraordinary European Council this Thursday to address situation in the Mediterranean," Tusk said on Twitter on Monday.

"The situation in the Mediterranean is dramatic," Tusk said later in a video statement.

"We cannot continue like this, we can't accept that hundreds of people die when trying to cross the sea to Europe," he added.

A wooden sailboat carrying dozens of migrants also ran aground off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes in a separate incident also on Monday.

At least three people were killed in the accident, the Greek coastguard said, while more than 90 others were rescued from the wreck.

Greek TV footage showed parts of the boat floating in the water off Rhodes and people holding on to it or swimming to the shore.

“We have recovered three bodies so far - that of a man, a woman and a child,” a Greek coastguard official said.

The last several years has seen a surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hopes of reaching Europe as they flee violence and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Before Sunday’s disaster off the coast of Libya, the IOM estimated that at least 900 people had died trying to reach Europe since the start of 2015.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

 

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