The United Nations' human rights chief is calling on European Union governments to take a new and "less callous" approach to the surge of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, arguing that increasingly harsh efforts to deter migration have been a failure.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein said Monday that recent deaths in the Mediterranean were "the result of a continuing failure of governance accompanied by a monumental failure of compassion." He called for the creation of a robust and well-financed European search and rescue effort, and called for the international community to set up an independent inquiry.
Zeid, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in Geneva that Europe is turning its back on some of the world's most vulnerable migrants and risks turning the Mediterranean into "a vast cemetery."
European Union leaders will hold an emergency summit on Thursday to address the crisis in the Mediterranean.
EU President Donald Tusk made the announcement on Monday after days of waffling and indecision on how to tackle the rapidly worsening tragedy of hundreds of migrants drowning during their attempts to reach Europe's shores.
The situation worsened further Monday with rescue crews searching for survivors and bodies from what could be the Mediterranean's deadliest migrant tragedy ever as hundreds more migrants took to the sea.
British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the summit. He said: "I think what we need is a comprehensive plan that does involve elements of search and rescue but, crucially, we have got to do more to deal with the problems in the countries from which these people are coming."
Italian prosecutor Giovanni Salvi says the smuggler's boat that sank near Libya this weekend had three levels and migrants were locked in the hull and on the second level.
Salvi told a news conference in Catania, Sicily, that "a few hundred were forced into the hull and they were locked in and prevented from coming out." He said hundreds more were "closed in" at the second level, while hundreds more were on the upper deck.
One survivor of the weekend sinking, identified as a 32-year-old Bangladeshi, has put the number of people on board the smugglers' boat at as many as 950, though Salvi said that number should be treated with caution. He said the Coast Guard had estimated 700 people were on board, based on its observations at the scene.
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says Italian and Maltese ships are responding to two migrant emergencies near the Libyan coast.
Renzi told a joint press conference with Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, on Monday that ships from the two countries were responding to distress calls from an inflatable life-raft near the Libyan coast with 100 to 150 aboard and to another boat with 300 people on board.
Renzi said the rescue operations, coming after the deadly shipwreck this weekend, are evidence that smugglers' activities are intensifying and that Europe needs to unite to combat the human trafficking in the Mediterranean.
Muscat called the weekend tragedy "a game changer" with the "realization that if Europe doesn't work together history will judge it very badly."
British Prime Minister David Cameron has paused from campaigning for the general election to lash out at the traffickers behind the tragedy in the Mediterranean.
"It is a very dark day for Europe, he said. "It really is horrific the scenes that we have all witnessed on our television screens, the loss of life.
"We should put the blame squarely with the criminal human traffickers who are the ones managing, promoting and selling this trade, this trade in human life."
Cameron said he believes in a comprehensive approach that deals with the instability in the countries involved.
" We must use all the resources we have, including Britain's aid budget, which can play a role in trying to stabilize countries and trying to stop people from trafficking," he said.
Police in southern Italy say they have broken up a major human smuggling ring responsible for the waves of migrants reaching Italian shores, and have detailed how the traffickers make money through illicit payments from desperate migrants willing to make the deadly crossings.
Palermo prosecutor Maurizio Scalia told reporters that arrest warrants have been issued against 24 people, 14 of them in Italy but at least one of them at large in Libya.
Ermias Ghermay, an Ethiopian, was already named in an arrest warrant in connection with an October 2013 capsizing off Lampedusa that left 366 dead and caused international outrage.
At a news conference, prosecutors detailed the fees paid by migrants at every stop of their voyage, based on wire intercepts.
The Greek Coast Guard says a total of 93 people were rescued from a migrant boat that ran aground on the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes.
The death toll stood at three — a man, a woman and a child. About 30 of those rescued were transported to the local hospital, the Coast Guard said, adding that a diver and an Air Force helicopter are continuing the search for any other potential survivors.
The prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic say the European Union should help stabilize the situation in the countries migrants leave when they embark on the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said Monday the EU should work to help improve living conditions in such countries, but didn't give any details.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said his country is ready to support such measures, adding it's "necessary for the European Union to focus clearly on ending the civil war in Libya."
Hundreds of people are believed to have died in recent weeks as boats overloaded with migrants have capsized after leaving Libya for Europe.
The International Organization for Migration says its Rome office has received a distress call from international waters in the Mediterranean about three boats in need of help.
The IOM says the caller reported 300 people on his boat with about 20 fatalities and said the boat was sinking. The caller provided no information on the other boats.
The IOM had no additional details, including the location of the distress call.
Video footage and photos posted by the local news website Rodiaki of the grounding of a migrant boat off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes on Monday show a large, wooden double-masted boat, people packed on board, just meters away from the island.
The vessel rocks wildly in the waves and passengers are seen in a photo jumping into the sea and swimming toward land.
In another video, about a dozen migrants sit on a floating piece of wreckage pushed toward the shore. Coast Guard officers and passers-by jump into the waves to rescue the migrants, including a young child wearing a lifejacket.
At least three people are known to have died in the incident.
An international aid agency spokeswoman has compared the scale of deaths in recent shipwrecks to the death toll in the sinking of the Titanic luxury liner more than a century ago.
Sarah Tyler, a spokeswoman for Save the Children in Catania, Sicily, said more than 1,000 people have died in the waters of the Mediterranean, adding "that is almost as many as died in the Titanic, and 31 times the number who died when the Costa Concordia sank."
One survivor's account has put at up to 950 the number of people on board the smuggler's boat that sank off the coast of Libya this weekend, with only a handful rescued. Last week more than 400 people died or went missing in another shipwreck.
The Bangladeshi survivor said many of the passengers were below deck and trapped inside when the boat sank.
The Greek coast guard says it is unclear how or why a boat carrying migrants ran ashore off the coast of the island of Rhodes, killing at least three people.
It says it received an emergency call from the boat, which is a wooden gulet with a mast, at at 10:45 am local time (0745 GMT).
Greek authorities say at least three people have died, including a child, after a wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants from the Turkish shore ran aground off the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes.
The Coast Guard says at least 83 people were on the boat, which ran aground Monday. Twenty-three people were transported to a hospital for first aid treatment and the others were taken to the local police station. It was unclear what the total number of people on board was, and authorities say a search and rescue operation is ongoing in the area to locate more potential survivors.
The nationalities of the migrants was not immediately known. Tens of thousands of migrants attempt to enter the European Union through Greece each year.
European Union president Latvia is calling on the EU's executive arm to urgently propose new measures to beef up Europe's border agency to respond to the migrant emergency in the Mediterranean.
Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said Monday that the presidency "is committed to facilitate swift adoption of short-term emergency measures once they are proposed."
Rescuers are combing the waters of the Mediterranean off Libya where hundreds of migrants are thought to have drowned when their boat overturned.
EU foreign and interior ministers are to hold emergency talks in Luxembourg on the crisis later on Monday.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the ministers would discuss whether the 28 EU leaders should hold an emergency summit this week.
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