23 Apr 2015

Facing migration crisis: European leaders meet in Brussels

As a mass funeral for 24 drowned migrants takes place in Malta, European Union leaders gather for an emergency summit on how to tackle the rising number of migrants arriving in southern Europe.

Just outside the Maltese capital Valetta, dignitaries gathered for the funeral of 24 migrants of some 800 migrants lost in the Mediterranean’s worst-ever migrant disaster.

Only 24 bodies were recovered from the disaster.

The two dozen coffins were carried through flower-lined streets. Attending the inter-faith service were the Italian interior mininster and the EU’s migration commissioner along with the president and prime minister of Malta.

Only 28 people survived the capsizing of the migrant boat off the coast of Libya on Sunday. Two men believed to be the captain and a member of his crew will appear in court on Friday, charged with people trafficking.

Brussels summit

Arriving at the emergency summit, Prime Minister David Cameron said the meeting ‘had got to be about saving lives’ and pledged that UK would send HMS Bulwark, three helicopters and two border patrol ships to help with the rescue efforts. However he stressed that anyone picked up by British boats would not have rights to claim asylum in the UK.

EU leaders were expected to announce that they would reverse a decision to scale back rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Last year the Mare Nostrum rescue mission saved the lives of over 100,000 migrants but some politicians argued that the mission was actively encouraging more people to attempt the hazardous crossing.

Refugees prepare to disembark in Italy

A smaller scheme, intended to patrol EU borders, rather than rescue people, was put in its place. However since then some 1,800 people have died this year attempting to make it across the Mediterranean.

The growth in countries across the EU of prominent right-wing parties, some using strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, has increased the difficulty for political leaders to find publically acceptable solutions to the problem of how to deal with the migrant crisis.

‘I was just preparing myself to die’

Channel 4 News spoke to Mirvat, a Syria refugee who fled with her children via Libya to the UK and is now living in Yorkshire.

She paid people smugglers to take her along with 700 others across the Mediterreanean. The boat captain got lost and, when spotted by a tanker, he rammed it – causing those on board to throw themselves overboard.

“It was chaos”, recalled Mirvat “I remember feeling guilty that I’d brought my daughter… I do not wish for anyone, even my bitterest enemy, to take such a risk, especially if they have children.”

See her moving story below: