© Reuters. A view of the wreckage of a shipwreck in southern Italy which has left dozens of migrants dead after the boat in which they were travelling smashed onto the rocks, in Cutro, Italy, February 27, 2023. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
By Angelo Amante and Remo Casilli
CROTONE, Italy (Reuters) – Italian authorities arrested three people and were looking for a fourth suspect 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 65 people.
The coffins of the victims found were laid out in an indoor sports arena in the southern city of Crotone, with small white caskets for the youngest of them and brown wooden ones for the others.
All had flowers on top, and some had engraved name tags. A toy police rescue vehicle had been placed on one of the children’s coffins.
Relatives of the victims arrived in Crotone from northern Europe to mourn the dead and try to trace survivors. Rescuers said most of the migrants came from Afghanistan, with others from Pakistan, Iran, Somalia and Syria.
Afghanistan’s Taliban-led foreign ministry said on Tuesday that 80 Afghan citizens, including children, had died in the shipwreck.
However, the local Italian provincial government office put the toll at 65, including a man aged around 30 found on Tuesday, and 14 minors. It said 25 Afghan victims had been identified. Other identified victims included a Palestinian, a Syrian and a Pakistani citizen.
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson said instead in a statement that two Pakistani citizens were confirmed dead. One person originally thought missing had been found, taking the total number of Pakistani survivors to 17.
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, and 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 to 64, including 14 children. There were 80 survivors, who said 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.
Teams from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity were providing psychological support to the survivors.
“They are heavily traumatised. 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.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Italy by boat over the past decade, fleeing conflict and poverty back home.
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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