Pope begs nations to act after hundreds of refugees drown

Pope Francis has called for much broader involvement from European nations to combat the loss of lives of African refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

In the latest incident, hundreds are feared dead after a boat carrying an estimated 700 people capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Nearly 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italy since the start of 2014.

But the number of deaths of refugees in Mediterranean crossings has risen 50 times since Mare Nostrum, a broad search and rescue operation in international waters, was replaced by a more limited operation within 50 kilometres of the Italian coast.

Italy announced it was ending Mare Nostrum in November last year, after it proved to be unsustainable without further help from EU nations.

The EU’s external borders agency, Frontex, implemented Operation Triton, with far fewer vessels, one-third of the budget and a smaller geographic scope.

The British government dropped its support for EU search-and-rescue operations because, it said, these would only “encourage” more migrants to attempt to cross.

Yet Save the Children pointed to the dramatic surge in numbers so far this month with 12,342 migrants arriving, up from 2,283 in the whole of March.

Speaking in Rome alongside Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s President, the Pope said: “I express my gratitude for the commitment that Italy is making to welcome the many migrants who, risking their lives, ask to be taken in.”

“It’s evident that the proportions of the phenomenon require much broader involvement,” the Pope said.

“We must never tire of appealing for a more extensive commitment on the European and international level.”

At his Regina Caeli address on Sunday, Pope Francis mentioned the most recent loss of life, saying the victims were like us in their search for happiness.

“They are men and women like us, our brothers who seek a better life: hungry, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,” the Pope said in off-the-cuff remarks.

“They were looking for happiness.”

The emergency in the Mediterranean was to be discussed at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on April 20.


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