EUROPE, ARE 23: An estimated 800 people died in Sunday’s disaster. Italian police say the captain crashed the boat by mistake against a merchant rescue ship.
The number of deaths in such incidents has now reached 1,750 so far this year.
EU leaders are holding an emergency summit later to find ways to stem the number of people risking their lives.
The 24 men laid to rest here were mourned, even though their names are unknown.
Migrants who themselves made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life joined Maltese government officials and international representatives in a white marquee erected on the helicopter pad outside Valletta’s Mater Dei hospital.
As the coffins were set down on a red carpet, women from Somalia, Eritrea and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa wept openly, wiping away tears with their headscarves.
Imam Mohammed El Sadi said all those who had died were brothers before God. He told the congregation that all people were migrants and that life was a journey.
The Bishop of Gozo, Monsignor Mario Grech, said the men were fellow human beings, regardless of creed, nationality or race.
With no known families to return their remains to, the men will be buried in common graves in Malta’s Addolorata Cemetery.
The number of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa has spiked in recent months, leading to huge numbers of people trying to reach Europe in unseaworthy and often overcrowded vessels.
More than 21,000 people are estimated to have reached Italy alone this year, with another 13,000 crossing in the eastern Mediterranean and 1,800 reaching Spain.
The EU summit later on Thursday will discuss a 10-point action plan to prevent more deaths, including increasing Frontex’s resources and extending the EU’s Mediterranean rescue service.
A pilot project to offer 5,000 places for resettlement for migrants “qualifying for protection” has also been mooted.
“I hope that in the coming days we’ll have a roadmap, we have a great deal to do in this area,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of the meeting. “It’s a matter of European values – it’s of supreme importance.”
Senior UN officials have described the EU plan as “minimalist” and called “for creation of legal channels for safe migration, including for low-skilled migrant workers”.
They also called on politicians to combat “racist and xenophobic rhetoric vilifying migrants and refugees”.
What major EU players say
- Italy wants the EU to double resources for maritime and border controls, a system for processing migrants on the ground in Africa, a fairer distribution of genuine refugees within the EU and military action against the traffickers in the Mediterranean, similar to the anti-piracy operation in the Horn of Africa
- Greece has proposed a plan to improve existing search-and-rescue operations, sharing the burden of settling the refugees more equally among EU countries, and it wants the EU to take a more active role in conflict resolution in Syria, Libya and Iraq
- France wants to focus on controlling migration flows – President Francois Hollande says the emphasis should be on disrupting people traffickers
- Germany also says that the problem needs to be treated at the source; it is noncommittal about whether rescue measures should be boosted, fearing it could encourage trafficking
- Sweden – which has previously sent surveillance ships and planes to the Mediterranean to look out for migrant ships, says it is prepared to do so again
Other proposals circulated ahead of the EU meeting include “systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”, fingerprinting all migrants, and aiding the formation of a stable government in Libya.
The EU had been criticised over the scope of Triton, its Mediterranean rescue service which replaced the larger Italian operation Mare Nostrum last year.
Some EU members had said Mare Nostrum was too expensive and expressed concerns that it was encouraging more migrants.
But human rights group Amnesty International said the decision to end Mare Nostrum had “contributed to a dramatic increase in migrant and refugee deaths”.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has also said the absence of rescue operations “has not reduced but rather increased the number of people who try to cross the Mediterranean”.
Italian prosecutors gathering witness testimony said that the migrants who took the boat that capsized on Sunday had been kept on a farm outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli, for up to a month before embarking, and had paid smugglers $700-$7,000 (£465-£4,465) each.
The Italian navy would gather evidence from the wreck as soon as possible, they said.
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