It is feared that over 100 people, including many children, have died after the boat that they were crammed into crashed into rocks during rough seas, and broke apart when attempting to land, near Crotone in the Calabria region of south east Italy.
The vessel was believed to be carrying upwards of 200 migrants, desperate to reach Europe. Bodies were recovered from a beach at a nearby seaside resort, with more than 60 confirmed dead, 12 of which are reported to be children, including at least one baby. The local coastguard said that more than 80 people had been found alive, but that more than 60 others were unaccounted for, with the likelihood of survival very slim.
The rescue and relocation operation is on-going, to assist nationals said to be from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. A temporary reception centre in the town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto has been set up to aid the shocked and bewildered survivors.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who ironically was elected last year partly due to a pledge made to stop the constant flow of migrants, expressed her “deepest sorrow” and blamed the loss of life on traffickers.
Over 20,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014, attempting the often treacherous crossings, and it is believed at least one of the survivors of this latest tragic incident has been arrested on migrant trafficking charges.
Exact passenger numbers unknown
The precise number of migrants on board the boat was unclear, it seems that the traffickers had allowed extensive over-crowding when it set off from Turkey several days ago. Early video footage has images of timber from the wreckage smashed into pieces and washing up on the beach, along with parts of the hull. Survivors are seen huddled under blankets, attended to by Red Cross workers.
Survivors in state of shock
Many of those who escaped with their lives have been taken to hospitals across the region. Some remained at the beaches where they have come ashore, unable to leave the scene knowing that their relatives had not made it from the unforgiving sea in front of them.
“They are heavily traumatised” said Sergio Di Dato, from charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). He spoke in the knowledge that there were children who had lost their parents, and other individuals had seen their entire families perish. “We are offering them all the support we can,” Mr Di Dato said, although admitting it was incredibly tough.
Pakistan PM requests verification on numbers from diplomats
Early reports suggested that there was a considerable number on board the boat that were of Pakistani descent and were believed to have drowned. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif, was quick to ask diplomats to verify the facts as soon as possible. He called the news “deeply concerning and worrisome”.
Francesco Creazzo, acting as a spokesman for SOS Méditerranée, who regularly participate in rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, said: “This is yet another tragedy happening near our shores and reminds us all that the Mediterranean is a giant mass grave, with tens of thousands of souls in it, and it continues to widen.”
He continued to make the point that sadly people will carry on venturing on the immensely dangerous journey simply in the hope of a better life, but for many it ends up claiming their lives.
Italian PM recommits pledge to tighten up on rules
The Italian prime minister’s right-wing government had in the past few days, managed to push through a tough new law tightening the rules on rescues. She said it was inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of the “ticket” that they paid in the false perspective of a safe journey. After offering her sympathies Ms Meloni added: “The government is committed to preventing departures, and with them the unfolding of these tragedies, and will continue to do so.”
European countries “need to work together”
There was a call for governments from European countries to work more closely together to assist those in need and develop safe and legal routes. It came from Regina Catrambone, who is director of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which carries out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
She said there must be an end to the “myopic vision” which seems to think Africa and the Middle East should take the lead on tackling the issue. She pointed out that the short-sightedness continues and there “still is no co-operation among the European states to actively co-ordinate a plan to help these people.”
UN boss in appeal
Echoing those sentiments was Secretary General António Guterres who spoke at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, and appealed for countries to do more to help refugees and migrants. He made his impassioned plea when telling colleagues of the latest tragedy: “Yet another horrific shipwreck in the Mediterranean has claimed the lives of scores of people seeking a better future for themselves and their children,” before stressing: “Refugee and migrant rights are human rights.”
He remarked that while ever the criminal gangs were able to control the migration routes, people would continue to die, suggesting that there is urgent need for safe, orderly, and legal routes to be made available.
Reforms on asylum rules crucial
A redoubling of efforts to make progress on reforming EU asylum rules to tackle the challenges regarding migration to Europe, was crucial in the light of the incident in Italy. They were the words of European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen after she expressed her own shock, saying she was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy.
Pope sends message
Pope Francis, who so often speaks up in the defence of the rights of migrants, was saddened at being told of the latest devastating boating incident. He said he is praying for the dead, the missing and those who survived.
Sadly there will be more to come
It was less than two weeks ago that another boat sank off the Libyan coast, taking the lives of more than 70 migrants. The waters are lethal for migratory sea crossings, but still they come. After each tragedy there are calls for an increase in search and rescue capacities, establishing clear and safe disembarkation mechanisms, together with safe and regular pathways.
Nevertheless, it is almost guaranteed there will be more of the catastrophes, due to the unbearable circumstances that the desperate migrants are attempting to escape from, and as such they will continue to be prepared to take such unbelievable risks.