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WORLD

Italy: Migrants Paid 8,000 Euros Each for ‘Voyage of Death’

February 28, 2023

CROTONE, Italy — Rescue teams pulled more bodies from the sea on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from Italy’s latest migration tragedy to 65, as prosecutors identified suspected smugglers who allegedly charged 8,000 euros (nearly $8,500) each for the “voyage of death” from Turkey to Italy.

Authorities delayed a planned viewing of the coffins to allow more time for identification of the bodies, as more and more desperate relatives and friends arrived in the Calabrian city of Crotone in hopes of finding their loved ones, some of whom hailed 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 housed in a center for minors.

“We are looking into possibilities to send them (the bodies) to Afghanistan, the bodies that are here,” he told The Associated Press outside the morgue. But he complained about a lack of information as authorities scrambled to cope with the disaster. “We are helpless here. We don’t know what we should do.”

At least 65 people, including 14 minors, died when their overcrowded wooden boat slammed into the shoals 100 meters (yards) off the shore of Cutro and broke apart early Sunday in rough seas. Eighty people survived, but dozens more are feared dead since survivors indicated the boat had carried about 170 people when it set off last week from Izmir, Turkey.

Aid groups at the scene have said many of the passengers hailed from Afghanistan, including entire families, as well as from Pakistan, Syria and Iraq. Rescue teams pulled two bodies from the sea on Tuesday, bringing the toll to 65, police said.

Premier Giorgia Meloni sent a letter to European leaders demanding quick action to respond to the continent’s longstanding migration problem, insisting that only way to deal with it seriously and humanely is to stop migrants from risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings.

Firefighters search among debris washed ashore by sea at a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (Giovanni Isolino/LaPresse via AP)

“The point is, the more people who set off, the more people risk dying,” she told RAI state television late Monday.

Crotone prosecutor Giuseppe Capoccia confirmed investigators had identified three suspected smugglers, a Turk and two Pakistani nationals. A second Turk is believed to have escaped or died in the wreck.

Italy’s customs police said in a statement that organizers of the crossing charged 8,000 euros (around $8,500) each for the “voyage of death.”

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi pushed back strongly at suggestions that the rescue was delayed or affected by government policy discouraging aid groups from staying at sea to rescue migrants.

The EU border agency Frontex has said its aircraft spotted the boat off Crotone at 10:26 p.m. Saturday and alerted Italian authorities. Italy sent out two patrol vessels, but they had to turn back because of the poor weather.

Piantedosi told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that the ship ran aground on the shoal about 100 meters offshore and broke apart at around 5 a.m. Sunday.

“There was no delay,” Piantedosi told Corriere della Sera. “Everything possible was done in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions.”

Meloni’s right-wing government, which swept elections last year in part on promises to crack down on migration, has concentrated on complicating efforts by humanitarian boats to make multiple rescues in the central Mediterranean by assigning them ports of disembarkation along Italy’s northern coasts. That means the vessels need more time to return to the sea after bringing migrants aboard and taking them safely to shore.

Piantedosi recalled to Corriere that aid groups don’t normally operate in the area of Sunday’s shipwreck, which occurred off the Calabrian coast in the Ionian Sea. Rather, the aid groups tend to operate in the central Mediterranean, rescuing migrants who set off from Libya or Tunisia.

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