Italy Migrant Tragedy Death Toll Surpasses 60;  Dozens are missing

STECCATO DI CUTTRO, Italy (AP) – Death toll in migrant tragedy rises to 62 Off Italy’s southern coast, rescuers recovered three more bodies on Monday, driving a desperate and dangerous ferry crossing home again for people trying to reach Europe. Dozens more are believed to be missing.

At least seven of the dead were children who died after a wooden boat broke up in stormy seas off the coast of Calabria on Sunday. Another 80 people survived, but many more are feared dead, based on reports from survivors that about 170 people were on board the boat that left Turkey last week.

“Many of them did not know how to swim and saw people disappearing in the waves; They were seen dying,” said Giovanna Di Benedetto of Doctors Without Borders, which sent psychologists to help survivors process the disaster.

Authorities in the southern city of Crotone asked relatives to provide descriptions and photos of loved ones to help identify the dead, who were kept in a makeshift mortuary at the sports arena.

Fazal Amin, an immigrant from Pakistan, waited outside a stadium in Croton on Monday for a friend’s brother in Turkey to find out that his phone had stopped working.

“He wants to know whether he is dead or alive,” Amin said.

Italian officials rejected criticism of the delayed rescue, noting that they had dispatched two rescue boats shortly after the EU’s border agency spotted the 20-foot (6-meter) boat drifting ashore on Saturday night. Rescuers had to turn back due to rough seas, officials said.

On Monday at Steccato di Cutro beach on Calabria’s Ionian coast, the scattered remains of the migrant ship and the items its passengers brought with them included a toddler’s tiny pink sneaker, Mickey Mouse pajama pants and yellow plastic. A pencil case decorated with pandas.

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Only a few life jackets were scattered among the wreckage.

The United Nations and Doctors Without Borders said many of the victims were Afghans, including extended families, Pakistanis, Syrians and Iraqis. Afghans were the second-highest number of citizens seeking asylum in the EU last year, and have increasingly fled the swirling security, humanitarian and economic problems that followed the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said on Twitter on Monday that 16 Pakistanis had survived the shipwreck. Sharif said survivors told authorities that 20 nationals had boarded the ship. He said Pakistani authorities were working with Italian authorities to get information about the four missing persons.

On Monday, two coast guard vessels searched the sea from north to south off Steccato de Cutro, a helicopter flew overhead and a four-wheeler patrolled the coast. A strong wind hit the seas, which still shook the boat, gas tanks, food containers and splinters of shoes.

Firefighters confirmed three more bodies had been recovered on Monday morning, but had little hope of finding survivors.

“I think not, because the sea conditions are very difficult,” said the provincial fire official. Roberto Fasano. “But we can never give up on this hope.”

Italy’s Sky DG 24 said at least three people had been detained on suspicion of helping to organize the trip from Izmir, Turkey.

Italy is a major destination for migrant smugglers. Especially for smugglers who operate boats off the Libyan coast, but also from Turkey. According to UN figures, 15% of the 105,000 migrants who arrived on Italian shores last year came from the Turkish route, almost half of them fleeing Afghanistan.

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Refugees fleeing Turkey have made the increasingly long and dangerous Mediterranean journey to Italy to avoid Greece, where authorities have repeatedly accused them of wrongdoing. Repatriation of migrant boats to Turkey. Overcrowded refugee camps in Greece and increasing difficulty reuniting with family in western and northern Europe have led people to pay thousands of euros to smugglers and head straight to Italy.

The dynamics of the disaster are still in focus on Monday. The EU’s Frontex border agency confirmed the sighting of the vessel heading towards the Calabrian coast at 10:26pm on Saturday and alerted Italian authorities. It said the vessel, while “overcrowded”, showed no signs of distress.

The Frontex plane left the scene at 11:11 p.m. due to a lack of fuel, according to the agency, which confirmed to The Associated Press that Italian patrol boats had to turn back due to rough weather.

The rescue operation was announced early Sunday after the mangled remains of the boat were found on the shore near Crotone, Frontex reported.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantossi backed the rescue amid criticism that migrants were essentially being abandoned. A sign outside the makeshift mortuary in Crotone on Monday read: “People in danger at sea must be rescued. Murderers!”

Piantedosi told reporters late Sunday that “it was not possible to conduct a possible maneuver to approach the migrant vessel or carry out a rescue due to sea conditions. “We must always consider that rescues… should avoid risking the rescuers’ lives.”

Firefighter Inspector Giuseppe LaRosa, who was at the beach on Monday morning, said the first rescuers to arrive were wondering how many children had drowned. He said rescuers noticed that the bodies of the dead had scratches as if they had tried to hang onto the boat.

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“It’s a spine-chilling scene,” LaRosa said. He said he was also haunted by the reaction of survivors.

“There was terror in their eyes and they were speechless,” he said. “Quiet.”

Such silence is a testament to the trauma experienced by migrants, said Sergio de Dato, project leader of the Médecins Sans Frontières psychology group. He said he spoke to a Syrian survivor in his 20s who saw his 6-year-old brother slowly die from the cold after drifting in the waves for hours on a piece of wood. Both initially embarked on a perilous journey in hopes of reaching Germany.

Kutrow’s mayor declared Monday a day of mourning, with flags on public buildings at half-mast. A city ordinance called on all residents, especially schoolchildren, to observe a minute’s silence at 11 a.m.

Italy’s government under Premier Giorgia Meloni has focused on efforts to prevent migrant boats from leaving, while discouraging humanitarian rescue teams working in the central Mediterranean, where Libya-based smugglers operate. Meloni said on Sunday that the government was committed to that policy “above all by emphasizing maximum cooperation with countries of origin and departure.”

Italy has complained bitterly for years that fellow EU countries block the absorption of migrants, many of whom aim to find family or work in northern Europe. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for a redoubled effort to tackle the problem.

“The loss of innocent migrant lives is a tragedy,” he said in a tweet.

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This story has been edited to correct the last name of Italy’s interior minister.

Nicole Winfield in Rome; Renata Brito in Barcelona, ​​Spain; and Muneer Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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