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Captain arrested for deadly migrant shipwreck

The few survivors of the Mediterranean’s worst-ever migrant boat sinking arrived in Sicily overnight. The boat’s Tunisian captain and one Syrian crew member were taken into custody on suspicion of smuggling, reckless homicide and causing a shipwreck. At least 800, and up to 900, are believed dead, some of whom were allegedly locked below deck. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to the migrant boat disaster in Europe which is feared to have claimed up to 900 lives. Today brought news of arrests and new details of the tragedy.

    Exhausted and still stunned, the 28 survivors of the Mediterranean's worst ever migrant boat sinking arrived in Catania, Sicily, overnight.

  • BARBARA MOLINARIO, United Nations Refugee Agency:

    They were very tired and very traumatized, of course. One of them was taken to the hospital. The others received medical attention. They had some new clothes distributed to them and had some food before being transported to the reception facility.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Among their number, the boat's Tunisian captain and a Syrian crew member. Italian prosecutors took both into custody on suspicion of smuggling, reckless homicide and causing a shipwreck.

    Migrants who made it to shore say when the smugglers collided with a would-be rescue ship, terrified passengers rushed to the other side, causing their overloaded trawler to roll over. They also told humanitarian officials that hundreds of people were locked below deck.

    FLAVIO DI GIACOMO, International Organization for Migration spokesman: Almost everyone told that there were about 1,300. So we have to say that 800 people have died apparently at this point. Unfortunately, we must confirm that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The tragedy has thrust the migrant issue back into the spotlight, and the U.N. Refugee Agency is urging the European Union to adopt an emergency action plan.

    VOLKER TURK, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, United Nations Refugee Agency: Obviously, the devil is in the detail. We need to make sure that the asylum component and the protection of people component is one that is prioritized within these measures.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The crisis in the Mediterranean has intensified, as more people fleeing conflict and poverty pour into Libya from Western sub-Saharan Africa, from East African countries, including Eritrea, and even from war-torn Syria in the Middle East.

    Some Syrian refugees travel to Turkey, then to Sudan, and then cross-country to Libya, itself beset by civil war. The United Nations has asked developed countries to shelter 130,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

    In February, the State Department announced the U.S. response.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department spokeswoman: The United States has admitted 524 Syrians since 2011. We're likely to admit 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement in fiscal year 2015 and a somewhat higher number, though still in the low thousands, in fiscal year 2016.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Republicans, led by Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, are resisting even that number. In a January letter, he and two other committee members wrote — quote — "The lack of a thorough security screening process can result in individuals with terrorist ties exploiting the refugee program to resettle in the U.S. homeland."

    Meanwhile, the migrant sailings go on. On Monday alone, more than 600 people were rescued in separate incidents. They included nearly 100 Palestinian and Syrian nationals packed aboard a luxury yacht.

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