Italy: Police Arrest Three Alleged Traffickers after Fatal Migrant Boat Wreck
Italy has arrested three people who they believe trafficked up to 200 migrants aboard a wooden boat that smashed apart on rocks off southern Italy on Sunday, killing at least 64 people, police said on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Colonel 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, adding that 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 so far to 64, including about 14 children. There were 80 survivors, who said that 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. Rescuers said most of the migrants came from Afghanistan, with others from Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, and Syria.
Teams from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity were providing psychological support to the survivors.
"They are heavily traumatized. 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.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in an interview on Monday that she had written to European Union institutions calling for immediate action by the bloc to stop migrant boat trips so as to prevent more deaths.
"The more people depart, the more risk dying," she told RAI public television. "The only way to tackle this issue seriously, with humanity, is to stop the departures."
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Italy by boat over the past decade, fleeing conflict and poverty back home.
The United Nations Missing Migrants Project has registered more than 20,000 deaths and disappearances in the central Mediterranean since 2014, including more than 220 this year, making it the most dangerous migrant route in the world.
A group of politicians from the Green party demonstrated in front of Meloni's office on Tuesday to demand why more wasn't done to save the migrants when their crowded vessel was spotted on Saturday.
Police have said that patrol boats were sent to intercept the migrants, but severe weather forced them to return to port.
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(Reuters - Writing by Cristina Carlevaro and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Keith Weir and Bernadette Baum)