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Inside Story

Lampedusa: A wake-up call for the EU?

Will the latest migration tragedy off the Italian coast trigger any change in the EU's migration and refugee policies?

Last updated: 05 Oct 2013 14:52
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Italy has declared a day of mourning after at least 127 migrants died when their boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa. Hundreds of migrants are still missing after their boat sank off the Italian island and many on the mainland insist it is a tragedy that could have been avoided.

Broadly speaking, global economic disparities are the basic factor behind this. The fact that people feel the need to seek out better opportunities elsewhere - the tragedy is that death should never be a consequence of the desire to seek a better opportunity elsewhere...

Elizabeth Collett, the Migration Policy Institute

Around 150 people were rescued, but it is believed that as many as 500 people were on board when the boat sank just one kilometre away from the shore.

It is one of the worst disasters of its kind in recent years. Migrants who do manage to make it to Europe are allowed to apply for asylum, but many are ordered to leave.

Attention is once again focused on the wider issue of migration to Europe - one of the continent's most pressing and intractable problems.

Thousands of would-be migrants have died on their journeys to Europe in the last 20 years - often in similar circumstances, travelling on overcrowded or unseaworthy vessels.

For years, people have been risking their lives to migrate to Europe for a variety of reasons: some in search of economic advancement, others simply escaping from war. Numbers have been boosted this year by thousands of refugees from the civil war in Syria, most of whom have arrived on the eastern coast of Sicily from Egypt.

Human Rights groups say migrants are regularly smuggled in crammed conditions with little or no food and water and they can expect mistreatment at the hands of their smugglers as well as border guards, who often send them straight back to the country they came from.

Italy's return policy was once the most notorious in Europe. At one stage it worked with authorities in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya to send boats back.

But that stopped after the European Court of Human Rights found that what were described as summary push-backs amounted to 'collective expulsion.'

So, what is next for the thousands of people who risk their lives to reach Europe? Who is to blame? And has the EU failed in dealing with the issue?

Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, discusses with guests: Elizabeth Collett, the director of the Migration Policy Institute; Claude Moraes, a member of the European Parliament; and Vidhya Ramalingam, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

"In a similar vein [to pan-European action] the intolerant in Europe, the racist, the xenophobic, the potentially violent forms of right-wing extremists - they are working across borders as well; there are international movements - we have the counter-jihad movement which does span the US and Europe - and European governments actually need to be working together in the same way to deal with these types of movements and the knock-on effect that they can have within their own countries."

Vidhya Ramalingam, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue

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Al Jazeera
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