Human traffickers threw young children overboard to lighten an overcrowded boat that sank off the Italian coast, survivors claim.
At least 65 people have been confirmed dead when a boat carrying 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 wreck, according to the Italian coast guard.
The wooden boat, which sailed from Turkey, broke up on rocky reefs off the coast of Steccato di Cutro, a tiny village at the tip of Italy’s boot.
One survivor told Italian newspaper La Stampa: “The traffickers started throwing the children out, grabbed them by the hand and threw them into the sea.”
Another said the smugglers pushed at least 20 people overboard as the boat sank.
Sunday’s tragedy sparked a wave of grief, sadness and desperate calls for action to politicians in Italy and beyond to do more to protect migrants.
Crotone mayor 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 in the hope of finding their loved ones, many from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.
“They’re still nameless dead,” Voce added.
Three suspected smugglers – a Turkish national and two Pakistanis – have been identified, prosecutors say. A second suspect is believed to have fled or died in the wreck.
The group charged each person 8,000 euros, or around £7,000, to take the “death journey”, Italy’s border police said.
Italy’s far-right government has made immigration a top issue, with much of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s election campaign fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric.
She has, among other things, pledged to strengthen the asylum process, increase repatriations and limit charity ships that rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
Under Meloni, NGO-led search and rescue vessels that have rescued migrants on board cannot remain at sea – they must dock at ports manned by authorities.
Her office would then say on Sunday: “…Meloni expresses her deep sorrow for the many human lives that have been taken by human traffickers.”
For some refugee rights groups, the wreck has rekindled memories of a migrant boat crash in 2013, when a tin trawler caught fire and capsized near Sicily.
Hundreds of men, women and children lost their lives, and a years-long search and rescue operation soon ground to a halt.
José Manuel Barroso, then president of the European Commission, said at the time: “We will do everything we can, with the means at our disposal, to change the situation.”
But campaigners say Sunday’s disaster – which comes as countries such as Greece expel thousands of migrants and the UK wants to take some to Rwanda – shows that not much has changed in recent years.
Calabria has long been one of the most manageable places for asylum seekers from Turkey to travel.
About 15 percent of the 105,000 migrants who arrived in Italy last year landed there, according to the International Organization for Migration, a U.N. agency.
But the central Mediterranean down is one of 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. While this month alone, the group says, 158 deaths have been recorded.
The agency tweeted: “This is not an emergency in numbers.
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