Monday, 2 October, 2023

Pope warns against 'indifference' after migrant shipwreck

Pope Francis on Thursday expressed his sorrow at news of the latest deadly migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean, urging people not to become "indifferent" to such increasingly frequent tragedies.

Forty-one people including three children were reported missing on Wednesday after their small boat overturned just hours after leaving the Tunisian port of Sfax six days earlier.

Four survivors spent days drifting at sea before being picked up by a merchant vessel and then brought by the coastguard to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, where they revealed what had happened to the others.

"I learned with sorrow the news of a new shipwreck of migrants in the Mediterranean," the pontiff said in a statement on his official account on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Let us not remain indifferent to these tragedies, and let us pray for the victims and their families."

It was only the latest in a number of deadly shipwrecks reported in the Central Mediterranean in recent days, following a spate of bad weather.

The Argentine pope, 86, regularly urges better treatment of those who flee their homes for a better life elsewhere.

His first trip outside Rome after being named head of the Catholic Church in 2013 was to Lampedusa, the first port of call for many migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe.

More than 1,800 people have died so far this year attempting the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy and Malta, according to the UN's migration agency, the International Organization for Migration.

IOM press officer Flavio Di Giacomo said on Wednesday that migrants were increasingly using "low-cost iron boats which break after 20 or 30 hours of navigation".

"It is very likely that there are many more shipwrecks than those we know about -- that is the real fear," he told AFP.