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Over 1,500 Have Died On Rafts From Libya Since January

Sunday’s boat wreck that killed 700 has brought the death toll of immigrants in the Mediterranean sea to over 1,500 so far this year — 1,000 of them in just the last week.

The drowned victims came from across Africa and Asia, and set out from war-torn Libya seeking refuge in southern European countries including Italy, Malta and Greece. Some held common citizenship with the 30 Ethiopians beheaded by Islamic State militants in a video released Sunday. (RELATED: Latest ISIS Atrocity Makes Clear Their Intent For All Christians)

European rescuers report multiple sunken boats a day, pulling hundreds of desperate migrants out of the sea. Citing the April 15 anniversary of the Titanic disaster in 1912, Amnesty International pointed out that the 2014 death toll of migrants crossing the Mediterranean was the equivalent of 2 Titanics, and that 2015 was likely to be even deadlier.

Describing Sunday’s rescue operation, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said, “They are literally trying to find people alive among the dead floating in the water.”

The crisis has sparked an inter-European debate on how best to respond, under discussion at a Monday meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council. Few European governments are willing to accept tens of thousands of refugees, but, as Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni put it, “reality has hit us in the face.”

Pope Francis is among the international leaders who has urged compassion for those fleeing Libya. He celebrating a Mass in 2013 on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is a first European destination for many Mediterranean refugees.

A previous European effort to rescue migrants, called Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), was ended last year over concerns that it was encouraging more migrants and costing too much money. The current program, called Triton, is much more limited and focuses primarily on patrolling the Italian coastline.

Efforts are also complicated by the fact that many of the boats’ human cargo are prey to smugglers, “taking advantage of the political crisis in Libya” to accelerate trafficking into Europe. One survivor of Sunday’s tragedy told the International Organization for Migration that most of the vessel’s 950 passengers were locked below-deck and unable to move freely.

In light of this, Italian leaders hope to convince their European counterparts to form a “joint operation targeting smugglers,” according to The Associated Press. But the core crisis, in which Libya is torn by rival militias and two groups claiming to be the legitimate government, is likely to prove harder to solve. (RELATED: Libya, Torn By Rival Factions, Struggles To Govern)

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