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France 'must do more' to end migrant tragedies

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France 'must do more' to end migrant tragedies
One of six makeshift boats filled with migrants which was spotted by an Italian Navy ship, in the Mediterranean sea near Lampedusa. Photo: Italian Navy
11:33 CEST+02:00
As the EU comes under fire over the latest boat tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea that saw hundreds of migrants drown, a leading French humanitarian organisation says France must do more to end the disasters.

France and the rest of the EU faced mounting pressure on Monday after the latest migrant boat shipwreck in the Mediterranean left up 700 people dead.

With foreign and interior ministers set for an urgent meeting there were reports that another boat carrying 300 migrants was in trouble in the same sea, that has been described as a vast cemetery.

The latest disasters come after a week in which two other shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead. For Jean-François Corty, from the aid organisation Medecins du Monde, the time for talking is over.

“Meetings are not enough anymore. We need concrete action and policies put in place immediately because hundreds of people are dying each week in the Mediterranean. The sea has become a vast cemetery,” Corty told The Local.

Corty, who is the director of operations in France for Medecins du Monde, says France and the rest of Europe must “either act now or simply accept the deaths of hundreds of migrants.”

“And if they don't act then we are faced with a crisis of our values,” he said.

Medecins du Monde has heavily criticized France and other EU countries for having a policy of not improving the welcome and protection offered to asylum seekers out of fear that it will simply encourage more to come.

“This argument is dead now. We can’t accept it anymore," Corty said

“These people will try anything to get to Europe and the government needs to take measures that correspond to this reality and to protect these people,” he added.

For more coverage on the boat tragedy, visit our sister site The Local Italy

Corty says France must do more to help Italy, “which is on the front line in the crisis.”

Improving its welcome for asylum seekers and increasing its capacity to take in more refugees are two ways France alone could act to take the weight off Italy.

France could also deploy greater maritime resources to help rescue migrants who make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean sea from Libya or Egypt.

“France and other EU countries have to accept the idea that they must protect these people who are fleeing war or unjust regimes. These migrants are not just coming for economic reasons. They have no alternative,” he said.

Paris could also use its political influence over countries like Eritrea to try to ease the conflict in the country, which is prompting so many to flee.

The press across Europe also laid into the EU and its member states on Monday for failing to protect migrants.

France's Le Figaro suggested that Europeans go to the United Nations and ask for permission to police the Libyan coast, from where countless boats depart, profiting from the country's political strife.

President François Hollande said on Sunday that Europe “must act” against the growing catalogue of mass drownings of migrants attempting to reach its shores, and called for closer surveillance of the routes used by smugglers.

He did not however spell out what France would or could do to help ease the situation.

Hollande called for "more boats, more aerial surveillance and an intensified fight against trafficking".

"Because those who put these people on boats are traffickers, terrorists even, because they know these boats are lousy... and put hundreds of people in danger."

Many of the migrants who survive the perilous boat trips to Italy make their way north to France and up to Calais where hundreds are amassed, in the hope of making it across the sea to the UK.

Corty and Medecins du Monde have been pressurizing the French government to ease the situation for the migrants in Calais, most of whom are living in squalor in makeshift camps.

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