Migrant boat tragedies in the Mediterranean spark calls for action


Thousands of people fleeing poverty and conflicts in Africa and beyond are escaping to the island of Lampedusa, trying to start a new life. Those who make it to shore alive are the lucky ones, because just in the past few weeks, several hundred migrants have drowned during their unsafe passage. Today we look at what's happening on Lampedusa and what changes need to take place.

Advocates for refugees are urging changes to the way migrants are treated worldwide

The stories are chilling: Desperate African migrants on overloaded boats crossing the Mediterranean to one of the closest bits of Europe ... the Italian island of Lampedusa. Survivors told the BBC tales of horrible death, naive expectations and astronomical fees. We escaped from the sea by swimming. 350 died in the sea. Dead all dead.


Officials pay their respect in front of the coffins of
refugees arrived from Lampedusa on October 15,
2013 in Sicily. (Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty)

"We got out by swimming. Those who were left behind, I don't know where they are. Our motor didn't work anymore - we turned on a fire, the fire got out of control and everyone jumped into the water".

Earlier this month, a boat packed with more than 500 Eritrean men, women and children, caught fire and capsized. Just 155 people survived.

It was a staggering loss of life, but not an isolated incident. Lampedusa's proximity to the coast of North Africa makes it a destination for tens of thousands of refugees each year.

Matthew Price is the European Correspondent for BBC and has been covering the plight of these migrants. Matthew Price was in Brussels.

Many of the migrants on Lampedusa are children. Carlotta Bellini is the director of Save the Children Italy and she works with the children who clamber onto the island.

This increased pressure on the coast of Italy has many people demanding the European Union take action. The European Commissioner for Home Affairs wants Mediterranean-wide search and rescue patrols. Frontex is the organization tasked with external border control with the EU.

Izabella Cooper is with Frontex, the organization in charge of external border control with the EU. We reached her in Warsaw, Poland.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the tragedy "should serve as a wake-up call" to the world.

Furio De Angelis is the UNHCR's representative in Canada. He was in our Ottawa studio.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Lara O'Brien.

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