Italian coast guards rescue 700 migrants as EU leaders debate action

The deaths of more than 300 African migrants in a deadly shipwreck off Lampedusa on October 3 shocked Italy and the world, and led to calls for EU lawmakers to review their policies on migration.

The agenda for the European Council meeting, which has been largely overshadowed by controversy over claims the United States has been spying on its European allies, said EU heads of state “are expected to agree that determined action should be taken to prevent the loss of lives at sea and to avoid that such human tragedies happen again.”

Because of its location as the closest Italian island to Africa, Lampedusa is a frequent destination for African refugees seeking to enter European Union countries, and shipwrecks off its shores are common.

But despite the dangers, migrants keep on coming. Within days of the October 3 sinking, another 34 people died when their boat capsized. Hundreds more have been rescued from often unseaworthy vessels.

Many of the migrants are from African nations, while others have fled from war-torn Syria, officials say.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has called for an international process to consider refugees’ medical needs and asylum requests and help them settle in Europe or elsewhere.

The Italian coast guards said Friday they led the rescue of four boats with 219, 201, 95, and 91 people on board, and helped with a Maltese rescue of another vessel carrying 91 people — a total of 697 people.

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