EU calls crisis meeting over growing migrant deaths at sea

The European Union came under intense pressure to address the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean after a vessel carrying migrants sank off the Libyan coast over the weekend, killing nearly everyone on board. So far this year, at least 1,500 migrants have died trying to make the crossing -- 15 times more than all of last year. Matt Frei and Rageh Omaar of Independent Television News report.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Europe's attention was fixed today on images of desperate refugees dying on rickety boats. A jam-packed vessel out of Libya went down Sunday, taking nearly all of its human cargo to the bottom of the sea.

    We have two reports from Independent Television News, beginning with Matt Frei in Catania, Italy.

  • MATT FREI:

    These are all that's left of the worst shipping disaster to date of the worst year so far for Mediterranean migration.

    But the survivors are outnumbered by the body bags and the body bags are outnumbered by the hundreds whose bodies will never be recovered from the bottom of the sea. The ghostly nocturnal images of the actual rescue show the Italian Coast Guard dinghies looking for more survivors in vain.

    As many as 900 may have drowned here. And together with last week's casualties, that means that more souls have been lost in seven days in the calm waters of the Med than when the Titanic sank. Off roads, in the Greek corner of the Mediterranean, this was today, when a ship of Syrian and East African refugees disintegrated just a few hundred meters offshore. Here, only three people drowned, but you can sense the panic of the others. It looks as if they can't swim.

    This is just one small desperate episode in an historic drama. Whether Greece or Italy, geography dictates that the southern shores of Europe have become a magnet for the huddled masses of an unstable world, from Libya to West Africa. What makes it worse is that Libya, the favorite point of departure, is also in a state of civil war.

    When this ship went down off the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, almost 400 people drowned. It triggered Italy's Mare Nostrum, a mass rescue operation that ended up saving 130,000 lives last year.

    But Italy didn't warning to bear the burden alone, and in the end, the European Union decided to replace Mare Nostrum with a much smaller rescue mission. The policy was, if we show the migrants that we won't rush to their rescue, they won't rush to the boats. But it didn't work. They keep coming in ever greater numbers.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So far this year, at least 1,500 migrants have died trying to make that crossing. That's 15 times more than the total for all of last year.

    ITN's Rageh Omaar picks up the story in Luxembourg, where European foreign ministers met today.

  • RAGEH OMAAR:

    It's the desperate and often fatal plight of would-be migrants like these Syrians fleeing civil war that has jolted the E.U. to try to take action. The European Commission has presented member governments with a 10-point plan today aimed at doubling the financing and number of ships available to help overcrowd vessels like these.

  • THERESA MAY, U.K. Home Secretary:

    We have looked at how we can deal with these tragic events that have taken place. Obviously, everybody is very concerned about the horrific loss of life that we have seen in the Mediterranean, but what was very clear today and what was agreed today among the ministers is that there's no quick fix on this issue.

  • RAGEH OMAAR:

    It's a reflection of the rising political concern within Europe of the scale of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean that what should have been routine E.U. talks in Luxembourg have turned into a crisis conference to try to address this issue.

    The question now is how to get the 28 member countries to act as one, especially when the issue of migration is such a polarizing and heated domestic political issue for European governments.

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