Coffins for the migrants who died in the June 30 shipwreck off Lampedusa | Photo: ANSA
Coffins for the migrants who died in the June 30 shipwreck off Lampedusa | Photo: ANSA

The Jesuit Refugee Service has called on Italy and the EU to activate a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean. The call follows the death of several migrants, including a pregnant women, in a shipwreck off Lampedusa.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Italy, Centro Astalli, released a press statement on June 30 expressing condolences for "the unjust and avoidable deaths" of at least eight people who died in a shipwreck off Lampedusa. The group called on Italy "not [to] let this tragedy be in vain."

On Wednesday, a boat carrying more than 50 migrants capsized about nine kilometers off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. According to Centro Astalli and Italian daily la Stampa, the shipwreck claimed the lives of at least eight migrants, including a pregnant woman. Several people remain missing. Initially, seven people had been reported dead and nine missing.

The route across the sea from northern Africa (Libya and Tunisia) to south-central Europe (Italy and Malta) is extremely dangerous -- at least 721 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the central Mediterranean, according to the UN migration agency IOM.

Calls for state-run search and rescue services

In reaction to the recent shipwreck, Father Camillo Ripamonti, the president of JRS Italy, called on the European Union to "change course in managing migrant flows in the Mediterranean by putting respect for the human rights of migrants and their safe entry in Europe as the focus of accords and treaties."

Centro Astalli called on Italian and European institutions to implement "immediate measures," namely through reinstating state-run search and rescue services.

"Activate a broad search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean that intervenes to help struggling boats and that brings shipwrecked people to a safe port that is not Libya; do it in a way that all the European Union member states accommodate proportionally the forced migrants through structural and systemic management of humanitarian channels and entry visas that finally become an alternative and a deterrent to human trafficking," Ripamonti said.

Against working with Libyan coast guard

The JRS president also argued that "governments have been focusing for years on accords with unsafe third countries to impede migrant arrivals in Europe, but the only result that has been obtained is an incalculable massacre of innocents."

Both the European Union and Italy are collaborating with the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts migrant boats and returns them to Libya. This policy is highly controversial, given that migrants and refugees are often detained and violently abused in Libya. Many human right organizations have long called on European countries to stop financing Libya's coast guards; UN organizations have also condemned the return of migrants and refugees to Libya.


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