At the least 58 folks have drowned within the Mediterranean Sea after an overcrowded picket fishing boat carrying greater than 150 migrants smashed into rocky reefs off the coast of southern Italy on Sunday morning.
Authorities mentioned the ship had apparently set out from Turkey a number of days in the past and was carrying folks from international locations together with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, a lot of whose our bodies washed up on the shore.
Italian coast guard officers mentioned round 80 folks have been rescued, whereas the remaining passengers are nonetheless lacking, with fears that the loss of life toll may nonetheless rise considerably.
The deaths, which embody girls and youngsters, come amid an escalating confrontation between Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s rightwing authorities and humanitarian organisations that perform search and rescue missions within the Mediterranean Sea.
Final week, Meloni’s authorities, which believes the charity rescue ships encourage extra folks to undertake the harmful Mediterranean crossing, impounded the Geo Barents, a rescue ship operated by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Rome has additionally imposed restrictive new protocols on non-governmental organisations’ rescue missions, and has ordered charity ships carrying rescued migrants to distant northern ports — as a lot as 4 days sail from rescue websites — to disembark survivors.
The principles haven’t stopped a surge in irregular migrants arriving in Italy. As of Friday, greater than 14,100 migrants had landed on Italian shores since January 1, up from simply 5,300 throughout the identical interval final yr.
On Sunday, Meloni expressed “deep sorrow” for the victims and blamed the deaths on “legal” traffickers, who she mentioned had packed as many as 200 folks on a ship simply 20 metres lengthy and despatched it throughout the Mediterranean in dangerous climate.
“It’s inhumane to trade the lives of males, girls and youngsters for the worth of the ‘ticket’ paid by them for the pretend prospect of a secure journey,” she mentioned.
She mentioned Italy desires to finish to such tragedies by stopping migrants from making an attempt to the crossing and is “demanding most collaboration from the states of departure and states of origin.”
Humanitarian teams have mentioned her authorities’s fierce marketing campaign in opposition to NGO rescue ships is contributing to tragedies at sea.
“The discretional focusing on of NGOs is just not going to unravel the rather more complicated and extensive problem of migration flows,” mentioned Juan Matias Gil, head of MSF’s Mediterranean search and rescue operations. “However stopping us from being within the sea goes to proceed contributing to extra deaths.”
Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, referred to as for stronger worldwide efforts to sort out the “root causes” of migration, together with “wars, persecution, terrorism, poverty, and territories made uninhabitable by local weather change”. He additionally urged the EU to take accountability and impose stronger measures to fight human trafficking.
The Geo Barents was impounded on Thursday throughout a routine port name for a crew change. Italian coastal authorities mentioned the ship had failed to offer all info requested — particularly its voyage knowledge recorder, or ‘black field’ — when it disembarked 48 rescued migrants at Ancona port on the Adriatic coast on February 17.
MSF mentioned a ship’s black field is generally used to analyze a marine accident, and had by no means earlier than been requested from humanitarian search and rescue ships. It’s planning a authorized problem in opposition to what Gil referred to as an “illegitimate request”.
Meloni’s authorities got here to energy final October promising robust motion to stanch the move of irregular migrants, arriving with out visas or permission to come back, reaching Italian shores. In 2022, greater than 105,000 irregular migrants arrived in Italy by sea, up from simply 67,477 in 2021.
Guidelines on how 11 humanitarian rescue vessels must function in bringing survivors to Italian ports, issued in December by Meloni’s authorities, have been criticised by Volker Türk, the UN excessive commissioner for human rights. Türk this month expressed “critical concern” that the principles may hinder the availability of life saving help.
“The actual price of those insurance policies are going to be felt by the people who proceed making an attempt to cross,” Gil mentioned on Sunday. “Italy is stopping us from being there, however no person else will substitute us.”