24 Dead, 650 Missing in Latest Capsizing in the Mediterranean

650 out of around 700 migrants reported to be aboard a boat that overturned in the Mediterranean on April 18 are missing and are presumed dead, in what could be the largest loss of life from any incident on the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants, UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Naval and merchant vessels managed to rescue 28 people and recover 24 bodies thus far, the BBC reports.

The latest disaster follows an incident only last week in which 400 lives were lost. The Lampedusa disaster of October 2013 saw almost 600 lives lost in two separate incidents.

Available information is that the boat overturned shortly before midnight on Saturday, in Libyan waters, some 180 kilometers south of Italy’s Lampedusa. Italian and Maltese naval vessels and merchant ships have been among the approximately 20 vessels, along with several helicopters, that are engaged in the rescue operation being coordinated by the Italian authorities.

“This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies.”

Following numerous calls to increase its involvement in dealing with the Mediterranean migrant issue, the European Union announced a joint meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Ministers for Home Affairs taking place in the afternoon of April 20.

”I would like to request the Commission to swiftly propose additional means that could be allocated to FRONTEX and to come up with proposal in close cooperation with appropriate EU agencies to step up efforts in the fight against human smuggling,” Latvian Minister for Interior Rihards Kozlovskis said.

”Additional resources should also be allocated to countries receiving migrants and options should be explored for setting up a full-fledged search and rescue operation of the EU.”

EU shifted part of the responsibility to the countries of origin and departure of migrants, saying that as long as they do not attempt to prevent inappropriate boats from departure, people will continue to put their lives at risk.

”I invite the High Representative and the European External Action service to take up contact with Egypt, Tunisia and other Northern African countries with the aim to ask them to exercise more control in order to prevent ships from going on dangerous journeys, as well as to request the participation of these countries in search and rescue operations. I also invite the service to invite the African Union in order to request assistance,” Latvian Minister for Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs said.

So far in 2015, more than 35,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived by boat in southern Europe and – if this latest toll is confirmed – some 1,600 have died. In 2014, around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,500 lives were lost.