Migrant tragedy: Rescuers search for survivors, bodies in mediterranean

Updated

The bodies of 24 migrants who drowned in what could be the Mediterranean Sea’s deadliest disaster were brought ashore on Monday as news of a fresh tragedy broke and calls for international action intensified.

Greek officials confirmed that a boat carrying migrants had crashed Monday off one of its islands. The Hellenic Coast Guard told NBC News that at least three people had died and 80 had been rescued alive following the crash off the coast of the island of Rhodes. Search and rescue operations were continuing, the Coast Guard added.

Footage from the scene showed migrants clinging to pieces of the boat in the water as people on shore tried to assist.

The latest incident came as rescuers continued combing the waters off Italy for survivors and victims of Sunday’s migrant-boat capsize, which left hundreds feared dead in Libyan waters south of Italy.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Monday that some survivors indicated there were 950 people on board the boat — including 200 women and dozens of children. Twenty-eight survivors and 24 recovered corpses arrived in Malta on board the Italian Coast Guard vessel Gregoretti, he added.

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The tragedy — though the latest in a long line — has catapulted the migrant crisis to the forefront of policy makers’ agenda. The Mediterranean is considered the world’s deadliest route for migrants: at least 3,500 died trying to reach Europe in 2014. Some 1,500 have died so far in 2015 — and aid organizations have called for the urgent institution of a Mediterranean search and rescue capability.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked and deeply saddened” by news of the latest capsize and urged the international community to help share Italy’s burden in face of the migrant crisis.

“This tragedy is just the latest in a line of incidents in the last week, in which hundreds of other migrants and refugees are reported to have died,” his spokesman said in a statement late Sunday. “These are urgent reminders of the critical need for a robust search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.”

Bernard Kouchner, France’s former foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders, said Europe is collectively guilty of allowing the deaths of migrants.

“In this affair, Europe is guilty of failing to assist a person in danger. That is to our shame,” Kouchner told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview, using the legal description for an offense punishable under French law. “Before anything else, let’s throw a lifeline to all these people who are drowning by creating a European rescue fleet for the 28 members of the European Union. One rescue boat for each country.”

Pope Francis also urged further action from the international community and offered prayers for the victims.

“They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. “I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated.”

European foreign ministers were expected to discuss the crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared on NBC News

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Migrant tragedy: Rescuers search for survivors, bodies in mediterranean

Updated