EU chief urges asylum reform after 60 migrants drown off Italian coast

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.


European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has called for quicker reform of EU asylum rules after more than 60 people drowned off Italy’s southern coast on Sunday.

Published: 27 February 2023 10:16 CET

EU chief urges asylum reform after 60 migrants drown off Italian coast

Shipwreck debris washed ashore in Steccato di Cutro, south of Crotone, after a migrant boat sank off Italy’s southern Calabria region. The death toll on Monday was estimated at 62. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

Von der Leyen tweeted that the deaths on Sunday, when an overloaded boat carrying an estimated 120 migrants sank, was a “tragedy” that left her “deeply saddened”.

“We must redouble our efforts on the (EU) Pact on Migration and Asylum and on the Action Plan on the Central Mediterranean,” she said.

More than 60 people, including 11 children and a newborn baby, died after their overloaded boat sank early on Sunday in stormy seas off Italy’s southern Calabria region, officials said.

The death toll rose to at least 62 after three more bodies were recovered on Monday morning during the search for those missing from the shipwreck at Steccato di Cutro, Italy’s Ansa news agency reported.

READ ALSO: Italy impounds charity rescue ship under new migrant law

Crotone’s rescue centre said 12 of the 59 victims were children, including a newborn, and 33 were women.

Italian officials handle coffins containing the bodies of the people who drowned in a shipwreck off Calabria’s coast on Sunday, February 27th. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

Italian coastguards said the overloaded vessel broke up in violent waves off Crotone, with one officer reporting that a suspected people smuggler had been arrested by the security forces.

Wooden debris was strewn across around 100 metres (330 feet) of beach, where many rescuers were deployed, an AFP journalist reported.

Rescue workers told AFP that the vessel had been carrying “more than 200 people”.

“Calabria is in mourning after this terrible tragedy,” regional governor Roberto Occhiuto said.

READ ALSO: ‘More will drown’: Italy accused of breaking international law on migrant rescues

Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who came to power in October on a strongly anti-immigration platform vowing to stop boat migrants from reaching Italian shores, said “The government is committed to preventing (migrant boat) departures and, with them, this type of tragedy.”

Shipwreck debris on the beach at Steccato di Cutro, south of Crotone. (Photo by Alessandro SERRANO / AFP)

But the government has been heavily criticised over the introduction of new laws allowing it to impound charity rescue ships and restrict their operation, while new rules preventing some migrants from disembarking in Italy were deemed unlawful by an Italian court..

“Yet another horrific shipwreck has claimed the lives of dozens of people, including children – this time off the coast of Italy,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter.

“I say once again: Every person searching for a better life deserves safety and dignity. We need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees.”