Divers have recovered many more bodies after a migrant boat tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy and France are both seeking greater European cooperation on immigration.
Underwater teams working at a depth of almost 50 meters (164 feet) worked throughout the day and were set to resume their search for bodies on Monday.
Italy’s Congolese-born integration minister Cecile Kyenge was present as the bodies were lifted from boats on to trucks. She called Europe-wide assistance to prevent further such tragedies.
“We cannot deal with this tragedy alone, but together with Europe. We must give answers to those who flee, need protection, and come here for help,” Kyenge said.
On Saturday French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an EU meeting over the deaths of the mostly Eritrean and Somali migrants.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. It is important that European policymakers meet soon to discuss this together,” he told reporters during a visit to the city of Metz.
The coffins of the migrants who lost their lives in the tragedy were lined up in an airport hangar on Saturday, where survivors paid their respects.
Coastguard facing questions
Italy’s coastguard has disputed claims that it took 45 minutes to one hour to reach the scene, saying it arrived within 20 minutes of receiving the first call. It has also denied reports it prevented private boats from joining rescue efforts once emergency services had been deployed.
The boat’s 35-year-old Tunisian skipper has been arrested on charges of people smuggling. A spokesman from Tunisia’s interior ministry told the news agency DPA that the boat had set off from Libya, and passed close to the Tunisian coastal town of Sfax, on its way to Lampedusa.
The tiny fishing and tourist island is located halfway between Sicily and Tunisia and over the years has seen tens of thousands of asylum seekers from Africa arriving in its port in unseaworthy boats.
On Saturday, fisherman from the island went out to sea in their boats and laid a wreath in memory of those drowned.
Italy, meanwhile, has asked for its increasing refugee influx to be put on the agenda of a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
rc/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)