Italian police hunt men who sailed migrants to doom

Published March 1, 2023
<p>Carabinieri officers stand at the beach where bodies believed to be of refugees were found after a shipwreck, in Cutro, the eastern coast of Italy’s Calabria region, Italy, February 26, 2023. — Reuters</p>

Carabinieri officers stand at the beach where bodies believed to be of refugees were found after a shipwreck, in Cutro, the eastern coast of Italy’s Calabria region, Italy, February 26, 2023. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD / CROTONE: As Italian authorities arrested three people they believe trafficked up to 200 migrants aboard a wooden boat — that was wrecked off the coast of southern Italy, killing at least 65 people — Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Tuesday confirmed that two Pakistanis were among the dead while another was still missing.

Relatives of the victims arrived in Crotone from northern Europe to mourn the dead and try to trace survivors. Rescuers said most of the migrants came from Afghanistan, with others from Pakistan, Iran, Somalia and Syria.

The coffins of the victims found were laid out in an indoor sports arena in the southern city of Crotone, with small white caskets for the youngest of them and brown wooden ones for the others.

Afghanistan’s Taliban-led foreign ministry said on Tuesday that 80 Afghan citizens, including children, had died in the shipwreck.

Death toll from boat tragedy rises to 65; 20 Pakistanis were on board ill-fated vessel, FO confirms two deaths

However, the local Italian provincial government office put the toll at 65, including a man aged around 30 found on Tuesday, and 14 minors. It said 25 Afghan victims had been identified. Other identified victims included a Palestinian, a Syrian and a Pakistani citizen.

Lt Col Alberto Lippolis said a Turkish man and two Pakistani nationals had sailed the boat from Turkey to Italy despite the terrible weather, and were identified by survivors as “the main culprits of the tragedy”.

“According to initial investigations, they allegedly asked the migrants for about 8,000 euros ($8,485) each for the deadly journey,” said Lippolis, commander of a finance police team in the region of Calabria. “All three have been arrested.”

One of the Pakistanis was a minor, a judicial source said, and police were looking for a fourth suspect, who is Turkish.

The boat hit rocks and broke up early on Sunday in heavy seas near the town of Steccato di Cutro on the toe of Italy.

Rescuers pulled a dead man from the sea on Tuesday, bringing the number of bodies retrieved to 64, including 14 children. There were 80 survivors, who said the boat had been carrying between 150 to 200 migrants.

“We will carry on searching… the sea until we are certain that we have found everyone,” said Rocco Mortato, a member of the underwater diving team of the fire brigade.

The boat had set sail from the port of Izmir in western Turkey towards the end of last week.

Police have said that patrol boats were sent to intercept the migrants, but severe weather forced them to return to port.

Teams from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity were providing psychological support to the survivors.

“They are heavily traumatised. Everyone has lost someone,” said Mara Eliana Tunno, an MSF psychologist.

One 12-year-old boy had lost his entire family, while a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan has lost his sister.

“He didn’t have the courage to tell his parents,” Tunno said.

The tragedy has fuelled a debate on migration in Europe and Italy, where the recently elected right-wing government’s tough new laws for migrant rescue charities have drawn criticism from the United Nations and others.

Foreign Office update In an update on the migrant boat incident, the Spokesperson’s Office said that the total number of Pakistani survivors was 17.

Twenty Pakistanis were on the boat that crashed in stormy weather on Sunday, the survivors told an official from Pakistan Embassy in Italy, who had met them.

“With great sorrow we can confirm that two Pakistanis have lost their lives in the tragic incident of the boat capsize off the coast of Italy, as identified by their families,” the Spokes­person’s Office said.

The embassy, FO said, was working with the Italian authorities to verify the status of the person, who was still missing.

Meanwhile, in another ship wreck incident near Libyan port of Benghazi, three Pakistanis died, FO said.

The country’s embassy in Libya, it said, was making arrangements for the repatriation of mortal remains of those killed in incident to Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2023



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