Mourning began today in Italy and in the countries left behind by 300 refugees that are feared dead in yesterday's shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. These include the known dead and the ones that were swept out to sea in the strong currents around the island, and are therefore feared dead.
According to AFP, there was a moment of silence at schools today, and flags flew at half-mast as the island tries to recover from the worst immigration tragedy to ever happen on the Mediterranean. Immigration charities estimate between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years, crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano called for more assistance from the European Union to deal with the sharp recent increase in refugee arrivals, calling it "a European tragedy".
This tragedy is bringing attention to the immigration issues plagueing Europe. The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has said she will travel to Lampedusa and has called on European countries to take in more refugees through legal international channels, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean sea crossings in rickety crafts.
Most immigrants are from war-torn and impoverished countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In fact, the height of immigration came in 2011 during the Arab Spring Revolts. However many times, they either don't make it, as in this case or the last one on Monday where another 13 men drowned off Italy's southern coast when they attempted to swim ashore, or they are not treated very well when they get there. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he hoped the Lampedusa disaster would be a "spur to action" to protecting migrants' rights, and improving the public perception of immigrants.
Pope Francis, who visited Lampedusa in July to plead for more tolerance and attention to the plight of refugees, called for prayers. "This is shameful," the pope said at a Vatican conference. "Let us join forces so these tragedies never happen again."
One big problem is that "Italy is not prepared for the surge of migrants on its coasts," said Monica Frassoni, co-leader of the European Greens at the European Parliament. She added, "The EU as a whole has a responsibility to develop a more humane and robust system."
CNN reports that the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, praised the efforts of the Italian coast guard but said he was "dismayed at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea." The U.N. says it is working with countries in the region to find "effective alternatives" so people don't risk their lives trying to make dangerous voyages across the ocean.
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