Bishop mourns deaths of 'fellow human beings' at interfaith funeral for Mediterranean migrants

Public outrage over the deaths peaked this week after up to 900 migrants died last Sunday when their boat sank on its way to Europe from Libya.Reuters

Mourners today held an interfaith funeral for those who died in one of the Mediterranean's deadliest ever migrant tragedies last week.

Attended by Malta's prime minister, ministers from Italy and Greece and the European Union Commissioner for Migration, the service took place just outside the morgue of the Mater Dei Hospital in Malta's capital Valetta for the 24 drowned migrants whose bodies have been recovered.

Up to 920 migrants died when their ship capsized on the way to Europe from Libya last Sunday morning. The identities of the 24 are not known, though they are all men and include four teenagers. Their bodies were picked up by an Italian vessel and brought to Malta on Monday.

Twenty-eight survivors were taken to Italy, but the overwhelming majority of victims were never found, having been locked below decks and sinking along with the boat. The captain has been arrested in Italy on suspicion of multiple homicide, human trafficking, and causing a shipwreck.

Today's service was conducted by the Bishop of Gozo, Mario Grech, and Imam Mohammed El Sadi.

"We mourn them, because irrespective of our creed, nationality, race, we know that they are our fellow human beings," the bishop said. He urged for increased humanitarian action to combat the rising numbers of migrant deaths – an estimated 1,800 have died so far this year alone.

"We can continue to read out the laws like lawyers do, but that is not enough. The way of the law, the way of justice should open itself to the way of love," he said.

Imam El Sadi thanked those who tried to rescue the migrants, and said this weeks' tragedies should raise awareness of those who are trying to flee war and instability in Africa.

A vigil to commemorate the migrants who died at sea was held in Sliema, outside Valletta on Wednesday evening.Reuters

The service was held hours after news leaked that EU leaders meeting in Brussels today will announce that only 5,000 refugees who manage to survive the journey to Europe will be allowed to stay. The rest will be sent back to their home countries under a programme co-ordinated by Frontex, the EU's border agency, the Guardian reported.

The announcement is expected to affect thousands of people. Last year, 150,000 migrants survived the journey, and at least 23,500 have reached Italy, and 12,000 Greece, so far this year, according to the UN.

The confidential draft summit statement seen by the Guardian also revealed that search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean are unlikely to be expanded, despite calls to increase the mission.

On Wednesday, mourners in Malta and Italy held candle-lit vigils to commemorate all those who have died in the past week. Candles were laid by the sea near Valetta, while a memorial service was held in the Verano Cemetery in Rome.

Additional reporting by Reuters