Lampedusa boat-wreck death toll rises

Eighty-three bodies retrieved by Italian coast-guard by nightfall on Sunday from migrant boat accident.

The boat sank on Thursday after a fire was set onboard to attract attention because of a problem [Reuters]

The death toll from a stricken boat off the coast of Italy carrying 500 African migrants has risen to 194 as rescue operations continue, officials have said.

By nightfall on Sunday, 83 bodies had been retrieved, including that of one child. At least 150 more are believed to still be missing as many are likely trapped in the wreckage 47 metres below the surface.

Italian officials told Al Jazeera that rescue operations will resume on Monday morning.

The boat sank on Thursday after a fire was set onboard to attract attention because of a problem.

Earlier in the day. Italian coastguards had rescued more than 200 migrants from two separate stricken boats in the rough waters.

The scale of the tragedy, which could become the largest death toll in a migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean on record, has created momentum for a comprehensive European Union immigration policy to cope with the tens of thousands fleeing misery and strife in Africa and the Middle East.

“The Mediterranean cannot remain a huge cemetery under the open skies,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on French TV station iTele.

Fabius said France and Italy have asked that the issue be placed on the agenda of an EU interior ministers’ meeting Tuesday.

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso plans to visit the island, Italy’s southernmost point and a frequent destination for migrants trying to reach a safe haven. Tens of thousands arrive there each year seeking refugee status in Europe.

Nearly all of the 155 survivors of Thursday’s shipwreck – the vast majority of them men – remain at the island’s refugee centre.

Italy’s Congolese-born integration minister, Cecile Kyenge,  visited the centre, calling the conditions “shameful”. Many migrants are sleeping on mattresses in the open because of overcrowding: the centre is built for 250 and is now housing more than 1,000 people, including migrants from Somalia and Syria.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies