Philip Hammond, the U.K.’s foreign secretary, said authorities need to identify and tackle human traffickers to deal with the mounting deaths of desperate migrants seeking a better life in the European Union. Hundreds of people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea in the past few weeks while attempting to make the short yet perilous crossing from the North African coast.
Hammond's comments follow the latest tragedy in the region where nearly 700 people died after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean late Saturday. The incident took place just outside of Libyan territorial waters near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Naval ships and commercial vessels involved in the rescue operation had managed to rescue 28 people and retrieve 24 bodies from the waters.
“The world is horrified at the appalling loss of life that it is taking place in the Mediterranean and rightly angered by the cynicism of the criminal gangs who are profiting from this people-trade,” Hammond said Sunday, in a statement. “Stopping this needless suffering is a huge international challenge which demands a comprehensive, co-ordinated response. We must target the traffickers who are responsible for so many people dying at sea and prevent their innocent victims from being tricked or forced into making these perilous journeys.”
Several government leaders have called for emergency talks and the European Union's foreign and interior ministers are scheduled to discuss the immigration crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.
The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reportedly said that the “EU has no more excuses” following the latest tragedy. She added that authorities would reportedly discuss if the 28 EU leaders should hold an emergency summit this week. EU president Latvia is urging the union's executive arm to propose new measures to enhance the capabilities of Europe's border agency to better respond to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, according to the Associated Press.
The presidency "is committed to facilitate swift adoption of short-term emergency measures once they are proposed," Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis reportedly said, on Monday.
French President Francois Hollande called Saturday's disaster “the worst catastrophe in recent years,” adding that Europe needed “more boats, more overflights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking.”
As conflicts escalate and spread across the Middle East and Africa, refugees fleeing the violence have grown in numbers over the past several months, and often pay exorbitant sums to human traffickers for a chance to reach European shores. However, many succumb to the perils of the journey, especially while crossing the sea in rickety and overcrowded boats.
Sweden's Minister for Justice and Migration Morgan Johansson, said, according to Reuters: “More EU countries must take responsibility for the refugee situation.”