Rome (AsiaNews) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed today that the shipwreck that took place two days ago off the coast of Libya has cost the lives of 800 migrants and constitutes the "worst tragedy" to date in the Mediterranean.
The figure emerged after interviews with the majority of the 27 survivors who arrived in Sicily yesterday. In shock, the migrants said that the boat overturned when a Portuguese merchant ship approached and the crowd, massed on the bridge, all moved to one side causing the boat to capsize.
According to survivors’ accounts, the ship had left Egypt and had stopped in Tripoli, Libya, to load more migrants. Many of them were closed in the hold below, and there met with their death. The survivors are from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Somalia, Eritrea and Bangladesh, at least 150 Syrians had also been loaded on the boat.
Based on the testimonies of those who escaped death, Italian police arrested two of the survivors suspected of being traffickers. One is a Tunisian and the other Syrian, the captain and first mate of the sunken ship.
Yesterday, in an emergency meeting, the European Union decided to strengthen patrols to control the Mediterranean, to target human trafficking organizations and to work with the countries of origin of migrants to try to dissuade people to take to the sea in these "journeys of hope".
These trips cost about 4 thousand euro per person; there are more and more women and children among migrants. It is thought that there were at least 50 women and children up to 10-12 years of age who died in the sinking two days ago.
According to Frontex, the EU agency that monitors borders, in 2014 more than 170 thousand migrants arrived in Italy, the highest number to a single nation in the history of the EU. The previous year there were 40 thousand arrivals. Every single person left from Libya.
Another path is from the east, in which migrants pass through Turkey and arrive in Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus. 50 830 arrived through this route.
Even as the EU were discussing what to do, two other rescue operations were performed off Libya, with two barges carrying a 100-150 people and the other 300 people.
Meanwhile, a boat carrying dozens of migrants sunk a few meters from the coast of the island of Rhodes. Three people died and 80 were brought to shore by the Coast Guard and the local population.
Of the whole tide of migrants, last year 626 thousand people sought asylum in the EU, of whom at least one-fifth are Syrians. The requests are made for the most part to Germany (203 thousand); then to Sweden (81 thousand); and Italy (65 thousand).