The 800 people believed to have drowned Saturday on a ship that was en route to Europe was “the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean that we have recorded,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Adrian Edwards told the Associated Press Tuesday. The weekend wreck highlighted the growing crisis of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to reach Europe for a better life.
Before Saturday’s sinking off the coast of Libya, some 1,500 migrants were believed to have been drowned or killed, according to the New York Times. The migration crisis led European foreign ministers to huddle in Luxembourg Monday to confront the problem. The ministers developed a 10-point plan to expand the European Union’s border patrol efforts against migrant ships and deploy a “systematic effort to capture and destroy” smuggler boats, according to the AP.
Meanwhile, the prime ministers of Malta and Italy also met Monday to call on taking down smugglers based in Libya, where many of the migrants are shipped off for the Italian islands of Sicily and Lampedusa, less than 200 miles from Tripoli.
“What happened on Sunday was a game changer,” said Joseph Muscat, Matla’s prime minister. “There is a new realization that if Europe doesn’t act as a team, history will judge it very harshly, as it did when it closed its eyes to stories of genocide — horrible stories — not long ago.”
Prosecutors in Italy are in the midst of building their case against the smugglers believed to be responsible for transporting the migrants on the doomed ship, the AP reported. Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, a Tunisian identified as the ship’s captain, and a Syrian crew member were arrested on favoring illegal immigration charges. Malek also had addition charges -- reckless homicide and causing a shipwreck. Prosecutors contend he accidentally rammed the boat into a ship that tried to rescue the migrants and that the ship was over capacity. Movements from the migrants also contributed to the capsizing of the ship, according to the AP.