Italy refugee boat death toll hits 194

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Divers have found more bodies in a capsized asylum seeker boat off Italy, bringing the death toll to 194, with 150 more still missing.

Divers have retrieved 83 bodies, including one child, from the wreck of a fishing boat packed with 500 African asylum seekers that capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, raising the official death toll to 194.

About 150 more are believed to still be missing, many likely trapped in the wreckage 47 metres below the surface.

The enormous scale of the tragedy, which could become the largest death toll in a migrant shipwreck in the Mediterranean on record, has created momentum for a comprehensive European Union immigration policy to cope with the tens of thousands fleeing misery and strife in Africa and the Middle East.

"The Mediterranean cannot remain a huge cemetery under the open skies," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on French TV station iTele on Sunday.

Fabius said France and Italy have asked that the issue be placed on the agenda of an EU interior ministers' meeting on Tuesday. On Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso plans to visit the island, Italy's southernmost point and a frequent destination for migrants trying to reach a safe haven. Tens of thousands arrive there each year seeking refugee status in Europe.

Nearly all of the 155 survivors of Thursday's tragedy remain at the island's refugee centre. None consented to speak with reporters who visited the centre on Sunday.

The survivors - the vast majority of them men - stayed in small groups in one corner of the yard, working together to remember the names of the people who had perished so the bodies can be identified. Forty-one are minors between the ages of 11 and 17. Most, if not all of the migrants on the boat, came from Eritrea.

"The dynamics of the shipwreck are not completely known, but it is clear many women did not make it. They nearly all died," said Filippo Ungaro of Save the Children. To date, 55 of the 194 dead are women, and five are small children.

Many migrants, including the survivors of Thursday's shipwreck, are sleeping on mattresses in the open because of overcrowding: the centre is built for 250 and is now housing more than 1,000 people, including migrants from Somalia and Syria.

Source AAP

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