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European Union chiefs to meet over Mediterranean migrant crisis

By Staff Reporter

Prosecutors are building a case against the men blamed for the Mediterranean's worst migrant disaster as European Union leaders mull a new plan to stop the smugglers.

The United Nations refugee agency said it believed more than 800 people drowned when a boat packed with migrants trying to reach Europe sank on Saturday. Officials boarded the rescue ship that took the survivors to Sicily and arrested the Tunisian captain and a Syrian crew member of the ship that capsized.

They are accused of illegal immigration charges and the captain was also accused of reckless homicide.

Officials in Sicily said two actions are suspected to have caused the migrant boat to capsize.

Catania prosecutors said the captain, 27-year-old Tunisian Mohammed Ali Malek, mistakenly rammed his boat into the merchant ship that had come to its rescue, and the migrants then shifted position on the boat, which was already off balance due to the collision.

Officials stressed that none of the crew aboard the Portuguese-flagged King Jacob is under investigation.

A spokesman for the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had finished interviewing most of the 28 survivors.

Adrian Edwards said the UNHCR believed more than 800 died, "making this the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have recorded". Only 24 bodies were recovered.

The shocked survivors were taken to a migrant holding centre in Catania.

Mr Edwards said about 350 of those aboard were believed to have been Eritreans. Others included people from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

He said about 1,300 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in April, taking the year's death toll to at least 1,776.

The deaths have jolted the EU into taking action, with Italy demanding that it not be left alone to shoulder the burden of rescues and that the EU focus on preventing the boats from leaving Libya in the first place.

Ahead of an emergency EU summit tomorrow, foreign ministers approved a plan at a meeting in Luxembourg that calls for the beefing-up of the EU border patrol mission, and a "systematic effort to capture and destroy" smugglers' boats.

Belfast Telegraph


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