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Pope Francis Expresses 'Heartfelt Pain' over Deaths of Migrants, Urges International Community to Take Action

( [email protected] ) Apr 20, 2015 01:35 PM EDT

Migrants
(Photo : AP Photo)
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 31,500 migrants have arrived from north Africa so far this year with 218,000 estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014.

Pope Francis has expressed "heartfelt pain" over the recent deaths of dozens of migrants, including 12 Christians who died after a group of Muslim migrants threw them overboard, and has urged the international community to help Italy end the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean.

Speaking after the Regina Coeli prayer to thousands of people in St Peter's Square on Sunday, the Pope made a "heartfelt appeal" for more to be done to help the migrants, who fled their respective countries in hopes of finding a better life. 

"(The migrants) are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life," he said.

"Faced with such a tragedy, I express my most heartfelt pain and promise to remember the victims and their families in prayer...I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated," the pontiff added.

On Sunday, a boat reportedly carrying 700 migrants capsized off of Libya's coast. Only 28 survivors have been rescued, and the bodies of the 24 victims found so far have been taken to Malta.

A few days earlier, 15 African Muslim migrants threw 12 Christians overboard during a crossing from Libya because of their faith, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported. As the Muslims attacked the Christians, they reportedly chanted, "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great." The 15 were arrested in Italy and are accused of multiple homicides aggravated by religious hatred, police said in a statement.

"It is evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement. We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level," Pope Francis said on Saturday after a meeting with the new Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, president Mattarella repeated Italy's call for the European Union to make a "decisive intervention to stop this continuous loss of human life in the Mediterranean."

He added: "These broken lives compromise the dignity of the international community and we are in danger of losing our humanity."

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, also insisted that Europe "can do more and must do more."

"It is a shame and a confession of failure how many countries run away from responsibility and how little money we provide for rescue missions," he told the AFP.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 31,500 migrants have arrived from north Africa so far this year with 218,000 estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014.

Last year, 3,500 migrants drowned attempting the crossing and since the start of 2015 a further 1,500 migrants are thought to have died.

Speaking on Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the tragedies serve as an urgent reminder "of the critical need for a robust search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean," and added that the sea has become "the world's deadliest route used by asylum seekers and migrants."