As many as 41 migrants have reportedly died following a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to four people claiming to be the only survivors of the disaster.
Italian media reported that the four migrants told rescuers they were on a boat that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia, but which sank en route to Italy. They said the vessel was carrying 45 passengers, among whom three were children.
The four migrants, three men and a woman, are from the Ivory Coast and Guinea. They said they had spent “days” at sea before being rescued by a passing cargo ship on the morning of August 9 and taken to an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat.
The migrant vessel reportedly set off on August 3 and travelled for around six hours before it capsized after being hit by a large wave.
Only 15 people had been wearing safety vests but they were among those who drowned, the survivors said. They were in a state of shock, according to authorities.
The port of Sfax is a main departure point for Africans wanting to go to Europe who pay human smugglers thousands of euros to reach the other side of the Mediterranean.
In Italy, more than 90,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year, according to Italian interior ministry data last updated on August 7
In July, the European Union and Tunisia signed a memorandum of understanding designed to limit the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. It aims to crack down on criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers.
The European Commission is giving €900 million to Tunisia to help to achieve this goal.
The Mediterranean crossing is one of the most dangerous migrant routes in the world. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), almost 28,000 people have gone missing trying to cross the sea since 2014.
An investigation targeting unknown individuals over aiding illegal immigration and causing death as a consequence has been opened by the Italian prosecutor.
“Yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean amidst the inaction of the Italian Government,” Pierfrancesco Majorino, a former MEP now responsible for Italian migration policies in the national secretariat of the Left-wing Democratic Party, posted on Twitter.
“What is needed is a European rescue mission and a genuine plan for sharing the responsibility of welcoming migrants. Instead, we are faced with empty rhetoric and inhumane agreements with dictators,” he said.
Ancora l'ennesima strage nel #Mediterraneo nell'immobilismo del governo italiano. Servirebbero una missione di soccorso europea e un vero piano di condivisione della responsabilità dell'accoglienza. Invece siamo alla retorica vuota e agli accordi disumani coi dittatori
— Pierfrancesco Majorino (@pfmajorino) August 9, 2023