At a reception center for migrants who survived the most recent shipwreck off the Italian coast, set up in the tourist setting of Isola di Capo Rizzuto and on the edge of a marine area protected by the European Union, doctor Sergio di Mato describes the personal tragedies he witnessed on Sunday .
“They are very traumatized. Some children have lost their entire family. We are giving them the support we can”, says Di Mato, from the organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to Reuters agency.
According to the most recent information, based on the testimonies of the migrants themselves, the wooden boat that sank at dawn on Sunday off the coast of Crotone province — in the last 100 meters of a crossing that had begun days earlier in Turkey — was carrying on board between 180 and 200 people.
As of Monday morning, at least 80 people had been rescued or reached the beach in Steccato di Cutro by their own means, and authorities had found 62 bodies, including those of 11 children and a baby. If the estimates on the total number of passengers are confirmed, the number of deaths could exceed one hundred.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Monday that two dozen of the dead were Pakistanis. Among the passengers there were also citizens of Afghanistan and Iran, among other nationalities.
At least one of the survivors has been arrested and will be charged with human trafficking, and Italian authorities say they are finalizing similar charges against two other people.
“No end in sight”
“We have cases of orphaned children, such as a 12-year-old Afghan boy who lost his entire family — nine people, including four siblings, parents and other close relatives,” Di Mato said.
Another 16-year-old boy, also an Afghan, lost his 28-year-old sister. A 43-year-old man and his 14-year-old son survived the sinking, but his wife and three other children — aged 13, nine and five — died in the Mediterranean.
“It is yet another tragedy that happens close to our coasts. The Mediterranean is a gigantic mass grave with tens of thousands of souls, and it continues to grow”, tells the BBC Francesco Creazzo, spokesman for the European non-governmental organization SOS Méditerranée.
“There’s no end in sight,” laments Creazzo. “In 2013, we heard ‘never again’ being said in front of the small coffins in Lampedusa; in 2015, ‘never again’ was said again in front of the lifeless body of a two-year-old Syrian child. Now, the words ‘never again’ have already are not even said. We only hear ‘games end’ [em direcção à Europa]but unfortunately people will continue to venture on this crossing and will continue to die.”
Also this Monday, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, again appealed to the governments of the countries to take more measures to avoid, or minimize, the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.
“Just yesterday, yet another terrible shipwreck in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of dozens of people who were looking for a better future for themselves and their children,” said Guterres, in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The rights of refugees and migrants are human rights.”
“We need safe, orderly and legal routes for migrants and refugees,” said the UN secretary general, who was the organization’s high commissioner for refugees between 2005 and 2015. to prevent loss of life through the provision of lifesaving means and medical treatment.”
Crossings and deaths to rise
On Sunday, the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, lamented the sinking and classified as “inhuman” what she described as “the exchange of lives of men, women and children for the price of a ‘ticket’ with the false prospect of a crossing secure”, reinforcing his Government’s preferential approach to combating drug trafficking networks.
“The government [italiano] is determined to avoid matches and thus prevent these tragedies from happening.”
In a measure much criticized by civil organizations that help rescue victims of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, the Italian Parliament approved a law, in recent days, which requires the immediate return of boats to a port after a rescue operation.
According to the organizations, the new law prevents their boats from continuing to respond to other emergencies on an ongoing basis, which could result in a higher number of deaths.
Since 2014, nearly 26,000 people have died in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, mostly migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Italy from Libya and Tunisia in North Africa. The crossing from Turkey – as was the case with the vessel that sank on Sunday – is also one of the most used routes.
According to project Missing Migrants (missing migrants), the number of crossings and deaths decreased between 2018 and 2020 – mainly because of the covid-19 pandemic – and increased again in the last two years: 1449 deaths in 2020; 2062 in 2021; and 2406 in 2022. Since the beginning of 2023, the project has recorded 225 deaths crossing the Mediterranean.