Sat, Apr 18, 2015 - Page 6 News List

African migrants ‘thrown overboard’

RISKY CROSSING:The International Organization for Migration said that it had received reports of a fight, possibly over religion, on a vessel headed for Italy

AFP, AUGUSTA, Italy

An official looks on as migrants rest after disembarking in the Sicilian harbor of Augusta, Italy, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

Italian police on Thursday said 12 African migrants had died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers in the latest high-seas tragedy in the Mediterranean, as another 41 boat migrants were feared drowned in a separate incident.

Police in the Sicilian port of Palermo said they had arrested 15 Muslim migrants suspected of attacking Christian passengers after a religious row on a boat headed for Italy, which is struggling to cope with a huge spike in illegal migrants arriving on its shores.

The 12 people who died were all Nigerians and Ghanaians, while the 15 suspects came from Senegal, Mali and the Ivory Coast. They were charged with “multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate,” according to a police statement.

Distraught survivors, who set off from Libya on Tuesday before being rescued by an Italian vessel on Wednesday, told a “dreadful” story of “forcefully resisting attempts to drown them, forming a veritable human chain in some cases,” police said.

In another drama, 41 migrants were missing feared drowned on after their dinghy sank en route to Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, mere days after 400 migrants are believed to have died in another shipwreck off the coast of Libya.

The four survivors in Thursday’s shipwreck, who came from Nigeria, Ghana and Niger, said their boat sank after setting sail from Libya with 45 people on board.

Their vessel was spotted by a plane, which alerted the Italian coast guard, but by the time a navy ship arrived to help them, only four passengers were found alive.

The latest deaths bring the number of migrants killed while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year up to 900, the organization said, up from 96 from January to April last year.

The agency said that about 10,000 people had been rescued off Italy since Friday last week alone, with recent good weather prompting a spike in the number of boat migrants attempting the risky crossing, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

The flood of people trying to reach Italy in recent days has been “extraordinary,” IOM spokesperson Giovanni Abbate told reporters in the Sicilian port of Augusta, where more new arrivals were disembarking.

Driven by desperation and undertaking a perilous journey, he said it was not the first time disputes between migrants on packed boats had turned deadly, in reference to the 12 Christians allegedly thrown overboard.

“Terrible tensions can arise, anything can happen,” he said.

The organization said in a statement that it had received reports of “a fight between different groups — maybe for religious reasons... on one of the boats rescued some days ago.”

Nigerian and Ghanaian survivors told police a group of Muslim passengers on the boat, which was carrying about 100 people, began threatening the Nigerians and Ghanaians after they declared themselves to be Christians.

“The threats then materialized and 12 people, all Nigerian and Ghanaian, are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean,” the police statement added.

Italy pleaded for more help on Thursday from other EU countries to rescue the migrants and share the burden of accommodating them.

Italy is not the final destination for most of those who risk their lives each year in search of a better life in Europe, but as their first port of call it is saddled with handling all asylum requests as well as saving those in danger from a watery grave.

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