Shipwrecks raise calls for safe passage

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

VALLETTA, Malta — Three deadly Mediterranean shipwrecks that claimed the lives of nearly 400 would-be asylum seekers fleeing war and repression sharpened calls on Saturday for humanitarian corridors to allow safe passage to Europe.

“Rules need to change,” said Joseph Muscat, Malta's prime minister. “As things stand we are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea.”

Malta and Italy launched a rescue operation when a boat capsized on Friday, killing at least 30 people.

Facing unrest and persecution in Africa and the Middle East, many migrants risk the often perilous journey to Lampedusa, a gateway to Europe just 70 miles from Africa, in rickety boats procured by people smugglers who charge $2,200.

Most are asylum seekers, fleeing civil war in Syria or repression and mandatory conscription in Eritrea.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed concern that Syrians fleeing conflict have sought to reach Europe by such a perilous route, calling it ‘‘inhumane.”

“They escaped bullets and bombs only to perish before they could ever claim asylum,” he said, adding that there had been reports that the vessel had been fired on shortly after departing Zwara, Libya.

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon called for action to prevent tragedies “that places the vulnerability and human rights of migrants at the center,” while Pope Francis lamented that ‘‘too often we are blinded by our comfortable lives, and refuse to see those dying at our doorstep.”

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