The death toll from Italy’s newest migration catastrophe increased to 65 on Tuesday, as prosecutors identified suspected traffickers who allegedly charged over $8,500 for each individual making the “voyage of death” from Turkey to Italy.
Officials postponed a planned viewing of the coffins to provide more time for body identification, while anxious families and friends flocked in Crotone, Calabria, in the hope of finding their loved ones, some of whom were from Afghanistan.
“I am looking for my aunt and her three children,” said Aladdin Mohibzada, adding that he drove 25 hours from Germany to reach the makeshift morgue set up at a sports stadium.
He said he had ascertained that his aunt and two of the children died, but that a 5-year-old survived and was being sheltered in a center for minors.
“We are looking into possibilities to send [the bodies] to Afghanistan, the bodies that are here,” he said outside the morgue. But he complained about a lack of information as authorities scrambled to cope with the disaster.
At least 65 persons, including 14 kids, were killed when their overcrowded wooden boat collided with shoals 100 yards off the coast of Cutro and broke apart in strong seas early Sunday. Eighty people survived, but many more are presumed dead because survivors said the boat carried about 170 people when it left Izmir, Turkey, last week.
According to relief organizations on the ground, many of the passengers were from Afghanistan, including entire families, as well as Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq. According to authorities, two remains were recovered from the sea on Tuesday, bringing the total to 65.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wrote to European leaders, urging them to take immediate action to address the continent’s long-standing migration problem, emphasizing the importance of preventing migrants from risking their lives on perilous maritime crossings.
“The point is, the more people who set off, the more people risk dying,” she told RAI state television late Monday.
Meloni’s right-wing government, which won elections last year on promises to crack down on migration, has focused on making it more difficult for humanitarian ships to undertake multiple rescues in the central Mediterranean by allocating them ports of disembarkation along Italy’s northern shores. That means the ships will require extra time to return to sea after transporting migrants safely to shore.
But, rescue ships from relief organizations do not generally operate in the region of Sunday’s shipwreck, which occurred off the coast of Calabria in the Ionian Sea. Rather, humanitarian organizations often operate in the central Mediterranean, rescuing migrants who set off from Libya or Tunisia, rather than Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.
Crotone prosecutor Giovanni Capoccia revealed that three accused smugglers, a Turk and two Pakistanis, had been identified. Another Turk is thought to have fled or killed in the crash.
According to a statement issued by Italy’s border police, organizers of the passage charged roughly $8,500 each person for the “voyage of death.”
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi denied that the rescue was hampered or hampered by government policy prohibiting humanitarian groups from remaining at sea to rescue migrants.
Frontex, the EU border agency, said its aircraft detected the boat off the coast of Crotone at 10:26 p.m. Saturday and notified Italian officials. Italy dispatched two patrol vessels, but they were forced to return due to bad weather.
According to Piantedosi, the ship ran aground and broke up around 5 a.m. Sunday.
“There was no delay,” Piantedosi told a newspaper. “Everything possible was done in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions.”
The Italian Coast Guard published a statement on Tuesday saying Frontex had confirmed that the migrants’ boat was “navigating normally” and that just one person could be spotted above deck.
According to the report, an Italian border police vessel “already operational in the water” was dispatched to intercept the migrant boat.
“At about 4:30 a.m., some indications by telephone from subjects on land, relative to a boat in danger a few meters from the coast, reached the Coast Guard,” the statement said.
At that point, a Carabinieri police boat that had been alerted by border police “informed the Coast Guard about the shipwreck.”
In contrast to similar cases of migrant vessels in distress, “no phone indication ever came from migrants aboard” to the Coast Guard, the statement noted.
Very seldom, migrants on board a ship in crisis call Alarm Phone, a humanitarian hotline that alerts maritime authorities to reports of ships in peril in the Mediterranean.
When briefing parliamentarians, the interior minister cited statistics that illustrate Italy’s frustration that other European Union countries do not respect agreements to receive a portion of migrants who arrive in Italy.
According to Piantedosi, while these agreements covered about 8,000 migrant relocations from June 2022 to February 2023, only 387 persons were ultimately transported to other EU countries, with Germany taking in the majority of them.