People smugglers threw small children into the sea to relieve an overcrowded boat that sank off the Italian coast, survivors say.
At least 65 people were confirmed dead after a boat with around 170 people sank just meters off the coast of Calabria, Italy, on Sunday morning.
Fourteen of the victims were children. About 80 people survived the sinking, according to Italy’s Coast Guard.
The wooden boat, which left Turkey, broke up against rocky reefs just off the coast of Steccato di Cutro, a small village at the tip of Italy’s boot.
One survivor told the Italian newspaper La Stampa: ‘The traffickers started throwing the children out, grabbed them by the arm and threw them into the sea.’
Another said smugglers threw at least 20 people overboard when the vessel sank.
Sunday’s tragedy triggered an outpouring of sadness, grief and frustrated calls to action from politicians in Italy and beyond to do more to protect migrants.
The mayor of Crotone, Vincenzo Voce, arrived with flowers at a makeshift funeral home in a sports hall yesterday, where countless coffins had been placed.
“Smugglers are heinous criminals who throw people into the sea without any qualms,” Voce told La Stampa.
Desperate relatives and friends are in Cotone hoping to find their loved ones, many from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.
“They’re still dead without a name,” added Voce.
Three suspected smugglers – one Turk and two Pakistanis – have been identified, prosecutors said. A second suspect is believed to have escaped or died in the wreckage.
The group charged each person €8,000, or around £7,000, to take the ‘death trip’, Italy’s border police said.
Italy’s far-right government has made immigration a major issue, with much of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s election campaign fueled by anti-immigration rhetoric.
She has, among other things, pledged to toughen the asylum process, increase repatriations and restrict charity ships that rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Under Meloni, the NGO-led search-and-rescue boats that saved migrants on board cannot remain at sea – they must dock at authorities-run ports.
His office would then say on Sunday: ‘…Meloni expresses his deep sadness at the many human lives claimed by human traffickers.’
For some refugee rights groups, the sinking revived memories of a migrant boat accident in 2013, when a small trawler caught fire and capsized near Sicily.
Hundreds of men, women and children died, while a years-long search and rescue operation soon petered out.
José Manuel Barroso, then President of the European Commission, said at the time: ‘We will do everything in our power, with the means at our disposal, to change the situation.’
But activists say Sunday’s disaster – which comes as nations such as Greece expel thousands of migrants and the UK seeks to transfer some to Rwanda – shows that not much has changed since then.
Calabria has been one of the most manageable places for asylum seekers to travel from Turkey.
About 15% of the 105,000 migrants who arrived in Italy last year landed there, according to the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency.
But the central Mediterranean below is among the deadliest routes.
The International Organization for Migration has recorded more than 17,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014.
In 2022, 1,417 people died during the crossing. This month alone, says the group, 158 deaths were recorded.
The organization tweeted: ‘This is not an emergency in numbers.
Please contact our news team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories like this one, check out our news page.