Image: Giuseppe Pipita/ZUMA/ANSA/IMAGO
Image: Giuseppe Pipita/ZUMA/ANSA/IMAGO

The bodies were found in Cutro in eastern Italy. The migrants reportedly drowned after their boat broke up against rocky reefs.

At least 59 people were found drowned off the southeastern Italian coast early on Sunday after the boat they were in broke up off the coast, Italian officials said.

Eighty more migrants were rescued after their wooden sailng boat smashed into rocky reefs and sunk.

Italian police and Carabinieri arrived at the scene in the city of Cutro, in Crotone, the Italian ANSA news agency reported. 

The boat took off from Turkey and was believed to be carrying over 170 migrants when it ran into trouble in the Ionian sea at dawn, according to UN bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration therefore expected the death toll to climb, they said in a joint statement

The retrieved bodies included those of women and a baby.

Rescue operations involved firefighters, divers and aquatic rescuers, the national firefighters' department said on Telegram.

The boat was believed to be carrying migrants mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the UN bodies said.

Italy and Spain often complain that they take in the biggest number of those trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, hoping for what they believe will be a better life, as their shores are usually closest to the boats rescued by NGOs.

How did the Italian government react?

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her "deep sorrow" for the lives lost, blaming "human traffickers." 

She pledged in a statement to stop irregular sea migration to prevent more "tragedies," demanding "maximum collaboration" from countries of "departure and of origin."

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi meanwhile stressed the importance of ending sea crossings that he

said offer migrants the "illusory mirage of a better life" in Europe, enrich traffickers, and result in such tragedies.

The far-right government has recently pushed through parliament a controversial law that restricts migrants' rescue. 

The bill limits migrant aid vessels to a single rescue attempt at a time. Critics argue this risks increasing the number of migrants lost at sea.

The Italian far-right government has been hard at work to restrict migrant arrivals at its coast | Photo: Giuseppe Pipita / IMAGO
The Italian far-right government has been hard at work to restrict migrant arrivals at its coast | Photo: Giuseppe Pipita / IMAGO

Prayers and vows for migration efforts

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the need to redouble efforts on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. The policy document sets out the EU's migration agenda for years to come.

Von der Leyen said she was "deeply saddened by the terrible shipwreck."

"The resulting loss of life of innocent migrants is a tragedy," she said.

Pope Francis also expressed his sorrow for those whose bodies have been recovered.

"I pray for every one of them, for the missing and for the other surviving migrants," the Pope said in his weekly address to crowds in St. Peter's Square.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi expressed solidarity with the survivors of the shipwreck, but urged for state action.

"Time for states to stop arguing and to agree on just, effective, shared measures to avoid more tragedies," he said.

Chiara Cardoletti, UNHCR Representative for Italy, the Holy See and San Marino, also said rescue capacity, which she described as "insufficient," needed to be strengthened and improved, especially when migrants are "driven to flee conflict and persecution."

"It is unacceptable to witness such horrors, with families and children entrusted to dilapidated and unseaworthy boats. This tragedy must lead us to act and act immediately."

rmt/ar, jsi (AP, Reuters)

First published: February 26, 2022

Copyright DW - All rights reserved

DW is not responsible for the content of external websites



More articles