Wed | Dec 7, 2016

UN rights chief wants new EU line on migration

Published:Tuesday | April 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Men carry a body inside a blanket on the shore in the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, Greece, yesterday. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea, where more than 1,000 migrants are feared dead after several overloaded boats recently capsized, drowning many of their human cargo.
Men carry a body of a migrant in the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, Greece, yesterday. Greek authorities said that at least three people have died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying nearly 100 migrants ran aground off the island of Rhodes.
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The United Nations' human rights chief is calling on European Union governments to take a new and "less callous" approach to the surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, arguing that increasingly harsh efforts to deter migration have been a failure.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein said yesterday that recent deaths in the Mediterranean were "the result of a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion". He called for the creation of a robust and well-financed European search and rescue effort, and called for the international community to set up an independent inquiry.

Zeid, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in Geneva that Europe is turning its back on some of the world's most vulnerable migrants and risks turning the Mediterranean into "a vast cemetery".

European Union leaders will be holding an emergency summit on Thursday to address the crisis in the Mediterranean.

EU President Donald Tusk made the announcement yesterday after days of waffling and indecision on how to tackle the rapidly worsening tragedy of hundreds of migrants drowning during their attempts to reach Europe's shores.

WORSENING SITUATION

The situation worsened further yesterday with rescue crews searching for survivors and bodies from what could be the Mediterranean's deadliest migrant tragedy ever as hundreds more migrants took to the sea.

British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the summit. He said: "I think what we need is a comprehensive plan that does involve elements of search and rescue but, crucially, we have got to do more to deal with the problems in the countries from which these people are coming."

Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi said the smuggler's boat that sank near Libya this weekend had three levels and migrants were locked in the hull and on the second level.

Salvi told a news conference in Catania, Sicily, that "a few hundred were forced into the hull and they were locked in and prevented from coming out".

He said hundreds more were "closed in" at the second level, while hundreds more were on the upper deck.

One survivor of the weekend sinking, identified as a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, has put the number of people on board the smugglers' boat at as many as 950, though Salvi said that number should be treated with caution. He said the Coast Guard had estimated 700 people were on board, based on its observations at the scene.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said Italian and Maltese ships are responding to two migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast.

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

Renzi said the rescue operations, coming after the deadly shipwreck this weekend, are evidence that smugglers' activities are intensifying and that Europe needs to unite to combat the human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

Muscat called the weekend tragedy "a game changer" with the "realisation that if Europe doesn't work together, history will judge it very badly".