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Migrants appear undeterred, even after deadly shipwrecks

From Livia Borghese, CNN
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Sat October 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The death toll in Friday's shipwreck rises to 34
  • Authorities rescued hundreds of migrants in the hours afterward
  • According to latest tally, 358 were killed in shipwreck last week

Rome (CNN) -- News of the deaths at sea of 34 migrants after their ship capsized has not stopped people from making the dangerous voyage on the Mediterranean Sea, an Italian Coastal Guard official told CNN on Saturday.

There have been two deadly shipwrecks in as many weeks near the island of Lampedusa. In addition to Friday's capsized boat, the October 3 sinking of another boat killed 358, officials said, and more bodies were being discovered.

But the flow of migrants who launch from Africa trying to reach Europe via the Italian island apparently remains undisturbed.

In the hours since Friday's shipwreck, Italian authorities carried out three additional search-and-rescue operations about 90 miles southeast of Lampedusa, Coastal Guard spokesman Filippo Marini said.

Among those rescued were about 200 migrants on two rubber boats and 72 migrants on a boat that broadcast a mayday, Italian navy spokesman Alessandro Busonero said.

Authorities spotted another boat, a fishing vessel, with 180 migrants aboard on Saturday morning, Busonero said. They, too, were rescued.

More than 200 people survived Friday's incident, but the United Nations said that survivors warned as many as 400 Syrians and Palestinians were on the boat.

"There is something fundamentally inhumane in a world where Syrians are forced to risk their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers in attempt to reach safety in Europe," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. "They escaped bullets and bombs only to perish before they could ever claim asylum."

Guterres called for an international process to consider refugees' medical needs and asylum requests and help them settle in Europe or elsewhere.

Italian premier wants EU action

Italian Premier Enrico Letta plans to raise the refugee issue "with force" at the next summit of European Union leaders, the ANSA news agency reported, citing government sources.

The EU's commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, issued a statement calling on European nations to give the Frontex border management agency resources to mount "a wide Frontex search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain."

"I also call on North African countries, in particular Libya, to fight more effectively the criminals who put these people in unseaworthy vessels and organize these journeys of death," Malmstrom said.

Augmented patrols

Following the October 3 shipwreck, the Italian navy has strengthened its presence in the Mediterranean between Sicily and the African coast, said Busonero, the navy spokesman.

Two extra vessels are constantly patrolling the most critical area, he said.

"It's an enormous effort for the Italian navy in a moment of spending review," he said.

Lampedusa is goal for thousands of refugees

Lampedusa, not far from Sicily and the closest Italian island to Africa, has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees seeking to enter European Union countries -- and such deadly shipwrecks are all too common.

Just under 115 kilometers (70 miles) from Tunisia, Lampedusa has been the first point of entry to Europe for more than 200,000 refugees and irregular migrants who have passed through the island since 1999.

This year 33,823 migrants have arrived in Italy via boat, the country's interior ministry said. This figure already exceeds the number of migrants who arrived by boat in 2012, but is much smaller than the number who arrived in 2011.

Many of the migrants are fleeing violence in places like Syria. Of the migrants who have arrived in Italy by sea, the majority -- 9,322 -- were Syrians, the ministry said.

October 3 victims were Eritrean

Almost all of the victims of the October 3 shipwreck were Eritrean, according to Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in Geneva.

"Many are likely to have been in need of international protection," he said.

Government oppression has been blamed for an exodus from Eritrea, an east African nation subject to United Nations sanctions for supporting armed groups in other countries.

Edwards said the October 3 survivors include former residents of the Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan and the Mai Aini camp in northern Ethiopia. Anger over the Lampedusa deaths among the population in Mai Aini may have been a factor in disturbances there last weekend in which one person was killed, Edwards said.

CNN's Neda Farshbaf contributed to this report.

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