Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Migrants paid $8K-plus for ‘voyage of death’

- By Paolo Santalucia and Luigi Navarra

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 nearly $8,500 for each person making 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 desperate relatives and friends arrived in the Calabrian city of Crotone in hope 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 sheltered in a center for minors.

“We are looking into possibilit­ies to send (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, saying, “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 shoals 100 yards off the shore of Cutro and broke apart early Sunday in rough seas. Eighty people survived, but many 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 on the continent’s longstandi­ng migration problem, insisting that migrants must be stopped from risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings.

“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.

‘No delay’

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

The European Union 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 that the ship ran aground and broke apart at around 5 a.m. Sunday.

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