Los Angeles Times

Migrants paid $8,500 for deadly voyage to Italy

Relatives search for evidence loved ones are alive as the death toll climbs to 65.

- By Paolo Santalucia and Luigi Navarra Santalucia and Navarra write for the Associated Press.

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 said outside the morgue. But he complained about a lack of informatio­n as authoritie­s scrambled to cope with the disaster.

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.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni sent a letter to European leaders calling for quick action on the continent’s long-standing 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.

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 sea after bringing migrants aboard and taking them safely to shore.

But aid groups’ rescue ships 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 generally operate in the central Mediterran­ean, rescuing migrants who set off from Libya or Tunisia — not from Turkey in the eastern Mediterran­ean.

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 border police said in a statement that organizers of the crossing charged around $8,500 each for the “voyage of death.”

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi rejected 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 that the ship ran aground and broke apart at 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 issued a statement on Tuesday saying Frontex had indicated that the migrants’ boat was “navigating normally” and that only one person could be seen above deck.

It added that an Italian border police vessel “already operating in the sea” set out 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.

Not rarely, migrants aboard a vessel in distress contact Alarm Phone, a humanitari­an support hotline that relays indication­s of boats in trouble in the Mediterran­ean to maritime authoritie­s.

When briefing lawmakers, the interior minister cited figures supporting Italy’s frustratio­n that fellow European Union nations don’t honor pledges to accept a share of migrants who reach Italy.

Piantedosi said that while these pledges covered some 8,000 migrant relocation­s from June 2022 through February 2023, only 387 people actually were transferre­d to other EU nations, with Germany taking in most of them.

 ?? Giovanni Isolino LaPresse ?? FIREFIGHTE­RS on a beach in southern Italy search for debris after a wooden boat broke up in stormy seas, killing dozens onboard. It was the latest tragedy at sea as desperate migrants risk all to reach Europe.
Giovanni Isolino LaPresse FIREFIGHTE­RS on a beach in southern Italy search for debris after a wooden boat broke up in stormy seas, killing dozens onboard. It was the latest tragedy at sea as desperate migrants risk all to reach Europe.

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