‘Genocide’ charged as boat capsizes in Mediterranean – CNN

(CNN)It was the latest in a series of dangerous voyages as hundreds of men, women and children boarded a boat in Libya, hoping to make it safely to Europe.

But after a couple of days at sea, in the dark of night Saturday, the ship was in distress in the Mediterranean and sent out an SOS.

As rescuers approached, the migrants — perhaps 700 people on board — moved to one side of their boat, hoping to be saved. Their movement caused the large, multilevel boat to capsize, sending the desperate crowd plunging into the frigid water, their chance of survival slim.

While the shipwreck was an accident, human traffickers facilitate risky trips like this, risking people’s lives by putting them on rickety ships in unpredictable waters.

“Gangs of criminals are putting people on a boat, sometimes even at gunpoint,” Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said. “They’re putting them on the road to death, really, and nothing else.”

Malta is working with Italy in the rescue operations.

    It’s “genocide — nothing less than genocide, really,” Muscat told CNN.

    “Our troops, together with the Italian navy, are literally looking through the bodies to try to find someone who’s still alive,” he said.

    Some were rescued Sunday, said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration. He told CNN that 49 survivors were recovered and being taken to Sicily. But the Italian Coast Guard, which is leading the rescue operation, reported that 28 survivors and 24 bodies have been recovered so far in the area about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Libya.

    Security for Libya’s borders is essential to “take out these criminal gangs — these terrorists,” Muscat said. The international community “cannot continue to turn a blind eye,” he added.

    The leader of the international nonpartisan medical organization Doctors Without Borders had strong words for the tragedy Sunday. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”

    De Filippi called on European states to immediately launch large-scale search and rescue operations with proactive patrolling as close as possible to Libyan shores. “Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

    Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

    Desperate journeys

    Many of the migrants who board ships to cross the Mediterranean are from sub-Saharan Africa, and travel for weeks just to get to the ships. They’re seeking a better life, but many are exploited by the traffickers who organize the voyages.

    Already this year, more than 900 migrants are believed to have died while crossing the Mediterranean — far more than during the same period in 2014, the International Organization for Migration said Friday.

    In one four-day period alone, more than 8,000 migrants were rescued, according to the Italian Coast Guard. On one day alone, SOS calls came in from 20 boats in distress.

    Roberta Metsola, a Maltese member of the European Parliament, told CNN on Sunday that countries from Northern Europe need to share the responsibility with their southern neighbors.

    “The people are going to continue to arrive,” she said. “The desperation subsists — there are almost a million people waiting to board boats and come to Europe to seek a better life. And that fact has to be recognized.”