Italy - As landings of rescued migrants surge in Southern Italy, IOM teams continue to gather evidence of at least 400 presumed fatalities earlier this week.
“While the number of arrivals this year is similar to that registered during the same period in 2014, so many arrivals is so few days is unprecedented,” said Federico Soda, Director of the IOM Coordination Office for the Mediterranean.
“The Italian maritime forces are doing incredible work and are trying to rescue as many people as possible,” Soda added. “What strikes us most, however, is the increase in the number of fatalities: ten times last year’s figure during the same period. This is unacceptable. Search and rescue efforts must be more comprehensive and supported by the European Union and its Member States. This is a humanitarian emergency that involves us all.”
As of Thursday 16 April, the Italian Coast Guard, the Italian Navy and several commercial ships had come to the rescue of approximately 10,000 migrants in the six days since Friday 10 April; as of Friday, 17 April, the total number of migrants reaching the Italian coasts is 21,191 since 1 January 2015, according to IOM’s estimate. However that does not include other search and rescue operations carried out yesterday and last night, whose survivors are expected to land in Italy later today.
Based on the data provided by the Italian Ministry of Interior last year, by 30 April 2014, the total of those arriving was 26,644.
After the rescue operations at sea, the migrants have been brought to the ports of Lampedusa, Augusta, Trapani, Messina, Porto Empedocle, Agrigento (Sicily), Reggio Calabria (Calabria) and Taranto (Apulia).
This week IOM reported around 400 migrants lost their lives at sea when a wooden fishing boat carrying about 550 people capsized. It is reported by survivors of the shipwreck that men on deck became restless and started moving about when they saw a rescue boat approaching them. An estimated third of the passengers on board were women and children who, at the moment of the shipwreck, were staying in the hull of the boat to be better protected from the cold. When the boat capsized, the hull was flooded with water and it is presumed that they all died.
Additionally, it has been reported that a fight broke out on one of the boats rescued some days ago (whose passengers reached Palermo on Wednesday) and 3 Nigerians and 6 Ghanaians were thrown overboard. The incident was brought to the notice of the local police, who arrested 15 individuals.
Furthermore, among the 586 migrants landing in Trapani Thursday, there were 4 individuals (2 from Nigeria, one each from Ghana and Niger) who identified themselves as the sole survivors of a shipwreck with 41 casualties. Those 41 migrants are believed to all be men from Sub-Saharan Africa.
IOM has learned that the four were found floating in the sea, spotted by a helicopter, and were then rescued by an Italian naval vessel – the Foscari. They left Tripoli on Saturday and had been adrift for four days.
With these latest tragedies, the death toll for 2015 will top 900, compared with 96 during the first four months of last year – roughly a tenfold increase.
The majority of incoming migrants appear to be from Sub-Saharan Africa, Eritrea, Somalia and Syria and were, for the most part, rescued in international waters. According to some of the migrants interviewed by IOM staff in Southern Italy, the bad weather conditions were the main cause for the decrease in number of incoming migrants in March.
Migrants have confirmed that they were gathered by smugglers in Libya in what they call “connection houses,” and that they had to wait there for up to a month. They report being systematically subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of smugglers. Many migrants, who used to reside permanently in Libya, told IOM staffers that they were forced to flee due to the increasingly insecure conditions in the country.
Based on the data provided by the Italian Ministry of Interior, 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in 2014, and, according to IOM estimates, more than 3,200 people lost their lives during the sea crossing.
IOM staff is deployed at the main landing points – alongside UNHCR, Save the Children and the Italian Red Cross – in the framework of the EU and Italian-funded Praesidium project. The project provides legal assistance to those arriving by sea, monitors the reception conditions and supports the authorities in the identification of vulnerable groups.