Dozens dead as migrants' boat sinks
Malta's prime minister said 27 people are confirmed dead after the capsizing of a migrant ship off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
Joseph Muscat told a news conference in the Maltese capital Valletta that more than 200 people have been rescued and that the search is continuing. He said at least three of the 27 dead are children.
The capsizing occurred some 65 miles south east of Lampedusa, but in waters where Malta has search and rescue responsibilities.
Last week, a migrant boat carrying some 500 Eritreans capsized off Lampedusa, killing at least 339. Only 155 people survived.
Meanwhile, another boat carrying migrants capsized off the Egyptian coast, killing 12 and leaving 116 survivors, state media reported.
The navy responded to a distress call near the city of Alexandria, the official news agency said, adding that 72 Palestinians, 40 Syrians and four Egyptians survived the shipwreck.
At least 70,000 Syrians are registered in Egypt as refugees. Many, including thousands of Palestinians who also fled the war in Syria, are not -registered and use the country as a stopover before making the perilous sea trip to Europe.
Thousands of Egyptians also make the sea journey to flee poverty and high unemployment.
The latest incident off Lampedusa occurred as recovery operations continued for victims of the October 3 shipwreck. The death toll stood at 339, including a newborn recovered with its umbilical cord still attached.
The recent deaths prompted renewed calls for the European Union to do more to better patrol the southern Mediterranean and prevent such tragedies - and for countries like Libya to crack down on smuggling operations.
"We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a cemetery," Mr Muscat said.
Lampedusa is the destination of choice for smugglers who usually charge more than 1,000 euro (£850) a head and cram the migrants onto boats that routinely run into trouble and require rescue. Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths reported by the media, says about 6,450 people died in the Canal of Sicily between 1994 and 2012.
Once in Italy, the migrants are screened for asylum and often sent back home if they do not qualify. During the 1990s and early 2000s, many of the arrivals were considered "economic migrants." But many of the latest arrivals are fleeing persecution and conflict in places such as Syria and Eritrea, and qualify for refugee status, UN officials say.
Many eventually end up in northern Europe's larger and more organised immigrant communities.
During a visit to Lampedusa this week, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso promised Italy some 30 million euro in EU funds to better care for newly arrived migrants.
Italian officials pledged to put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming European Union summit and on the EU agenda next year, when Italy and Greece hold the EU presidencies.
Some 30,100 migrants arrived in Italy and Malta in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 15,000 in all of 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.