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Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca speaking at the United Nations, May 6, 2015 (UN).
Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca speaking at the United Nations, May 6, 2015 (UN).

President of the Italian Red Cross Francesco Rocca said Wednesday that migrants should not be labeled as "illegal," because they are victims, not criminals. Meanwhile, he warned that traffickers are finding more routes to smuggle humans for profit.

Rocca told reporters that since the start of this year, more than 35,000 people from North Africa and the Middle East have attempted the perilous journey across the Mediterranean seeking protection in Europe. Nearly 1,800 have died in the process.

Italy and its navy and coast guard have been at the forefront of the crisis. Last year, they rescued more than 160,000 migrants from the sea.

Rocca said a legal way must be found for people to escape conflict and oppression in their homelands.

“How can you stop a mother who is trying to save their daughters in Nigeria? How can you stop a father who lost one son and wants to save the other too, escaping from Syria?," he asked.

European efforts at stemming the flow of migrants have focused on Libya, which, mired in political chaos and conflict, has become a gateway for traffickers transiting people to Europe.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed destroying smugglers’ boats before they are filled with migrants as a preemptive way to stop the traffickers.

The Red Cross chief appeared skeptical about how effective this could be.

“For us it is not a solution - bombing the boats. This must be very clear, because the traffickers will find other routes,” he said.

Rocca said smugglers are not just based in Libya but are already active in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, Lebanon and the Balkans.

At the U.N. Security Council, Britain and France have been drafting a resolution that diplomats say would seek to authorize action against suspected vessels on the high seas, in Libya’s territorial waters and along its coast.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is expected to brief the council Monday on the proposal. It will be her second trip to New York in as many weeks.