A boat carrying over 200 people has capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Search teams have rescued some 51 people. Meanwhile, calls are growing for the EU to grant migrants temporary resettlement rights.
The Italian coast guard continues to look for survivors
Around 150 people are missing after an overloaded boat carrying immigrants from Libya capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean.
Rescuers say they have picked up around 51 survivors and spotted at least 15 bodies of people who presumably drowned. Officials said that strong winds and heavy seas were hampering the rescue operation and likely contributed to the accident.
"Some are being treated for hypothermia after spending hours in very cold war," Italian coast guard officer Pietro Carosia told the news agency dpa.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the migrants aboard the vessel came from a range of impoverished and war-torn developing nations.
"The vessel, which was laden beyond capacity, had left the Libyan coast with migrants and asylum seekers from Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and Sudan," the IOM said in a statement Wednesday.
In recent months, Lampedusa has been inundated with refugees from North Africa. Many are fleeing the ongoing standoff in Libya between forces loyal to ruler Moammar Gadhafi and anti-government rebels.
"This moment is one of those moments where you say: 'That’s it, that’s enough,'" Spanish EU parliamentarian Antonio Masip Hidalgo said. "I am sick of the incapacity of this parliament, this European Union to do anything, just talk and talk. It’s criminal."
Call are growing for the EU to grant migrants temporary resettlement rights
The EU has put increased pressure on member states to take in refugees. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, is set to lobby for the move during a meeting of interior ministers next Monday in Luxembourg.
The European Parliament asked the 27 member states to activate the EU’s temporary protection mechanism, which would grant housing and employment opportunities and schooling to refugees for up to three years.
However, a qualified majority of member states would have to approve such a move and skepticism remains.
"The problem is that we’ve got a big mixture here - asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants," said Portuguese EU parliamentarian Rui Tavares. "They should all be respected, but there are differences. Refugees are the most vulnerable people in the world."
Author: Spencer Kimball, Matt Zuvela (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton