Italian Red Cross chief slams lack of response from Europe to migrant crisis

Rescued migrants wait in the Sicilian harbour of Palermo on April 15. Credit: Reuters

The head of the Italian Red Cross has criticised the European Union for its "absent" response to the deepening crisis of migrants dying attempting to make it into southern Europe.

In an interview with ITV News, Francesco Rocca said it was still unclear where the 28 people believed to have been rescued from the tragedy - when a boat carrying an estimated 700 people capsized on the way from Libya early this morning - are being held.

The Red Cross in Italy offers medical and psychological care to the survivors, the majority of whom, Rocca says, are attempting to make their way into northern European countries. He said the closure of the Italian coastguard's search and rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, has been disastrous for those attempting to make the perilous journey, and that he expects the numbers of people both making the journey and dying at sea to increase this year.

He said the European Union is failing in its responsibility and its values by not operating a search and rescue mission. The EU mission, Operation Triton, is a patrol mission only and the ships have not yet rescued one person.