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At least three hundred people are feared dead after a boat carrying migrants sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday. The Italian government has called on the European Union to do more to help it deal with refugee arrivals.

Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.
Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.
By late evening 104 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.
But with only 150 survivors plucked from the water more than 12 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.
“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy. We have run out of coffins,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
‘A European tragedy’
Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.
Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.
There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.
Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.
“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.
“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”
The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.
A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.
‘These deaths did not need to happen’
Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.
François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.
“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”
In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.
Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.

At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”

The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.
Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy !!!

   WORLD NEWS :  Pope follows footsteps of namesake St. Francis

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage Friday to the hillside town of Assisi and the tomb of his namesake, St. Francis, the 13th-century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and minister to the most destitute. St. Francis was famously told by God to “repair my house.”

In word and deed, the first pope to name himself after St. Francis has made clear how he wants to follow that command, with a church that is welcoming to all, but especially the most marginalized, and a church hierarchy that is worthy of its 1.2 billion flock.

Here are some of his main goals as he attempts to achieve the church St. Francis would have wanted.

___

(A CHURCH ‘THAT IS POOR AND FOR THE POOR’)

Pope Francis was having lunch Friday with the poor being cared for by a Catholic charity in Assisi. Since becoming pope in March, Francis has made it clear that one of his principal objectives is a church that is humble, looks out for the poorest and brings them hope. The “slum pope,” as he is known because of his work in Argentina’s shantytowns, recently denounced big business “idolatry” of money and sought to encourage those without the “dignity” of work.

(A CHURCH THAT WELCOMES EVERYONE, INCLUDING NONBELIEVERS)

At his first public audience a few days after his election, Francis made an unusual exception: In recognition that not all in the room were Christians or even believers, Francis offered a blessing without the traditional Catholic formula or gesture, saying he would bless each one in silence “respecting your conscience, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” That respect for people of different faiths or no faith at all has become a hallmark of Francis’ papacy as he actively seeks out atheists for dialogue.

(A CHURCH THAT DOESN’T JUDGE)

The pope’s “who am I to judge” comment about gays represented a radical shift in tone for the Vatican. Yes, Catholic teaching holds that gays should be treated with dignity and respect, so Francis was making no change in doctrine. But church teaching also holds that gay acts are “intrinsically disordered” – a point Francis has neglected to emphasize. This refusal to judge applies to just about anyone Francis encounters, including drug addicts and convicts. He has brought a simple message that they are loved and deserve to be loved.

(A CHURCH THAT IS ‘MESSY’ AND GOES OUTSIDE THE SACRISTY)

Francis told Argentine pilgrims during World Youth Day in July to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up, even if it meant irritating their bishops. He wanted to convey his hope the church would stop being so inward-looking, and instead go out to the peripheries to spread the faith. Francis’ first trip outside Rome was to Lampedusa, an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland. The last-minute trip was organized after several boat migrants seeking a better life in Europe drowned. Francis’ eulogy for all migrants lost at sea denounced a “globalization of indifference.” It was a prescient message given Thursday’s shipwreck off Lampedusa that killed scores of migrants.

(A CHURCH THAT ISN’T STUCK IN THE PAST OR OBSESSED WITH RULES)

Francis has made clear he cares little for the old Latin Mass and has disparaged traditionalist Catholics still very much attached to it. He has forbidden one religious order from celebrating the pre-Vatican II liturgy without specific authority, seemingly rolling back the 2007 decree signed by Benedict XVI allowing for its wider celebration. More well-known is his disagreement with the church’s “small-minded rules,” saying too many Catholics were focusing on them. Rather, he wants the church to focus on mercy.

(A REFORMED CHURCH)

Francis was elected on a mandate to reform the church, and he has set about doing that, perhaps with St. Francis’ “repair my house” instruction in mind. He has just finished three days of meetings with advisers helping him rewrite the main blueprint for how the Catholic Church is governed. Ideas include a “moderator” to make the Vatican bureaucracy run more smoothly and a revised role for the powerful secretary of state. It also includes involving lay men and women more in the life of the church. Just as St. Francis wanted !!

Former president Thabo Mbeki warned on Thursday against a “retreat to tribalism” in South Africa.

Speaking to the Anglican Church’s provincial synod in Benoni, South Africa, about his work as an African Union mediator to end conflict between the two Sudans, Mbeki said part of the challenge that the people of South Sudan faced in building a new nation was “very strong tribal identities”.

Turning to South Africa, he said: “I wish that our own people here would… get to understand more even of what’s happening in South Sudan to guard against our own retreat to tribalism here, because we can see… it’s very dangerous.”

He continued that if South Africans learned the lessons of South Sudan, “they would understand that we should not sacrifice that sense of national cohesion that’s built up over many, many decades because of some selfish reason of assuming this tribal identity because maybe it’ll bring something to my pocket”.

In raising the issue publicly, Mbeki touched on a sensitive issue in South African public life.

The ruling African National Congress has made strenuous efforts during its 100-year history to downplay the importance of ethnic identity in South Africa, but the issue emerged during the ascent of President Jacob Zuma to power in 2008 when some of his supporters began to wear T-shirts which read “100% Zulu Boy”.

The party cracked down on the T-shirts and the issue is no longer widely discussed in public, except for occasional references to the predominance of Zulu-speaking leaders in the Zuma administration’s security and justice sectors !!

WORLD NEWS : At Least more than 94 Dead in Migrant Shipwreck Off Italy

A ship carrying African migrants to Europe caught fire and capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, killing at least 94 people as it spilled hundreds of passengers into the sea, officials said. Over 150 people were rescued but some 200 others were still unaccounted-for.

It was one of the deadliest accidents in recent times during the notoriously perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing from Africa for migrants seeking a new life in the European Union.

“We need only caskets, certainly not ambulances,” Pietro Bartolo, chief of health services on the island, told Radio 24. He gave the death toll of 94 but told Sky TG24 he expected that to rise as search operations continued.

“It’s an immense tragedy,” said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini, adding that the dead included at least one child of about 3 and a pregnant woman.

Blue, white and black tarps covered the bodies at the port.

Coast guard ships, local fishing boats and helicopters from across the region were combing the waters trying to find survivors, said coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla. The boat left from Tripoli with migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, Di Milla said.

Antonio Candela, the government’s health commissioner for Palermo, said 159 people had been rescued, but the boat is believed to have been carrying as many as 500 people, the LaPresse news agency reported.

Nicolini said the ship had caught fire after those on board set off flares so it would be seen by passing ships. The ship apparently then capsized, spilling the passengers into the sea near Conigli island.

Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland – a mere 70 miles (113 kilometers) off the coast of Tunisia – and is the frequent destination for smugglers’ boats.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano canceled his appointments Thursday and headed to Italy’s southernmost island to oversee the rescue operations. Pope Francis, who visited Lampedusa in July, quickly sent condolences.

It was the second shipwreck this week off Italy: On Monday, 13 men drowned while trying to reach southern Sicily when their ship ran aground just a few meters (yards) from shore.

Hundreds of migrants reach Italy’s shores every day, particularly during the summer when seas are usually calmer. They are processed in centers, screened for asylum and often sent back home. Those who aren’t usually melt into the general public and make their way to northern Europe, where immigrant communities are bigger and better organized. In Italy, migrants can only work legally if they have a work permit and contract before they arrive.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of the year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.

It’s still a far cry from the tens of thousands who flooded to Italy, especially through Lampedusa, during the Arab Spring exodus of 2011.

The numbers, though, have spiked in recent weeks, particularly with Syrian arrivals.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had recorded 40 deaths in the first half of 2013 for migrants arriving in Italy and Malta, and a total of 500 for all of 2012, based on interviews with survivors. Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths reported by the media, says about 6,450 people died in the Canal of Sicily between 1994 and 2012 !!

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