Vessel carrying people from sub-Saharan Africa hit rough seas near island of Lampedusa
At least 13 women have died and eight children are missing after a boat capsized in rough seas off the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday night as a patrol vessel attempted to save it.
Italian authorities have rescued 22 survivors from the boat, which was carrying about 50 people. Only four of the 13 recovered bodies have been identified by surviving family members, including that of a 12-year-old girl.
According to an initial reconstruction of events, all the people onboard moved to one end of the vessel as the rescue boat arrived, causing it to overturn. The boat, carrying mostly people from sub-Saharan Africa, had initially left Libya before sailing along the coast to reach the city of Sfax, in Tunisia, where another 15 people boarded before they continued their journey to Sicily, according to survivors.
Sicilian prosecutors from Agrigento who are investigating the shipwreck emphasise that, for some time now, the route from Tunisia has been increasingly favoured by refugees and migrants attempting to reach Europe.
People are leaving from Libya less and less and as a result the vast majority of migrants come from Tunisia, the Agrigento prosecutor, Salvatore Vella, said.
About 2,500 people have arrived in Italy by sea from north Africa in September, and almost all of them left from Tunisia, usually from the coastal city of Zarzis. The arrivals by sea to Italy in September represent a third of the 7,637 who have landed since the start of the year, according to data from the Interior Ministry.
The Tunisia route, though shorter than from Libya, can, however, be more risky. The goal for those departing from Tunisia is to reach the Sicilian coast directly and evade controls, said Vella. This means that migrants do not launch an SOS as has happened from those leaving Libya. This, of course, makes the journey more dangerous.
They are called phantom landings and for some years now they have been an increasingly common way of travelling with boats, upon landing, often abandoned on Sicilian beaches.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, urged member states to back a temporary plan to quickly get migrants off boats in the Mediterranean Sea and distribute them among willing countries. Germany, France, Italy and Malta are seeking approval from their EU partners for a fast-track process to screen migrants, relocate asylum-seekers and return people who do not qualify for asylum.
Its a moment for all member states to show more solidarity and more responsibility, Avramopoulos told reporters in Luxembourg, We cannot continue like this with what is happening in the Mediterranean. We need permanent mechanisms, he said.
The 27 ministers minus the UK – were also confronted with a stark warning that the eastern Mediterranean shows signs of an emerging crisis, following a rise in people seeking asylum.
Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus three countries facing increased numbers of asylum seekers arriving via sea and land from Turkey issued a joint paper that said: Although the current situation is different from the crisis of 2015 to early 2016, it contains alarming elements of an emerging crisis. Europe cannot be caught unprepared for a second time.
The three countries urge the EU to devote more funds to migration in its next seven-year budget to help them manage the flow of people.
Separately, a leaked document from the European commission revealed that Greece was recording the highest number of weekly arrivals since spring 2016, when a controversial EU-Turkey deal took effect. In March 2016, the EU promised to pay 6bn to refugee charities in Turkey, if Ankara took action to prevent people getting on people smugglers boats.
Numbers fell dramatically, but have risen sharply in 2019: in August almost 8,000 asylum seekers arrived in Greece over the sea, compared with about 5,000 in July. Greece is also facing a sharp increase in asylum seekers travelling over its land border with Turkey, with arrivals more than doubling to 1,500 in August (compared with the previous month). About three-quarters of people using the land route are Turkish nationals.
More than 1 million migrants arrived in the EU in 2015, most of them from Syria or Iraq, sparking one of Europes biggest political crises in recent times as nations bickered over who should take responsibility for them.
A strong agreement will help save lives and demonstrate that EU countries are committed to working together to uphold basic values and international obligations, said the Amnesty migration researcher, Matteo de Bellis.
Since 2013, almost 20,000 migrants have died trying to reach Europe.