An estimated 400 migrants, including children are believed to have drowned off the coast of Libya while trying to reach Italy last weekend, survivors who reached the Italian mainland Tuesday told an international charity organization.
The eyewitnesses who recounted the tragedy were among 150 survivors who landed at the port of Reggio Calabria on Tuesday aboard the Italian Navy vessel Orione after being rescued in separate operations, maritime sources said.
In total, as many as 5,000 migrants reached Italy between Saturday and Monday at the isle of Lampedusa, in Sicily, Calabria and Apulia, including some 450 children of whom 317 were unaccompanied, Save the Children officials said.
The surge in migrants trying to reach Italy from Libya was said to be because of recent good weather that was encouraging human smugglers to load desperate refugees and migrants aboard poorly-equipped vessels.
About the reasons why migrants were taking the extreme steps, Valerio Neri, director-general of Save the Children in Italy, said: “Many have lived through atrocious experiences of violence they have undergone or witnessed, and some have lost friends, relatives or parents, in recent shipwrecks.”
According to their accounts, the situation in Libya was ever more out of control than previously believed, and the violence in the streets there was constantly getting worse than before. “It is fundamental to guarantee adequate reception and the necessary support, also psychologically, especially for the most vulnerable,” Neri said.
One survivor was quoted as saying: “Near Tripoli, we lived in a sardine factory for four months. We were over 1,000 people. We ate only once a day and could not do anything. If anyone spoke to a friend or a neighbor he was beaten up.
“This was all done to extort more money. They made you call home, saying that you were dying and at the same time, they beat you so that your relatives would hear you screaming,” Bherane, aged 17, said in an apparent reference to armed militias who have taken control of various parts of the strife-ridden country.
Save the Children said that the growing death toll in the Mediterranean imposes a duty on not just Italy, but all of European Union to respond with an improved system of search-and-rescue missions capable of coping up with the situation that many observers believe would only worsen in the coming months.
“The high and constant presence in landings from boats of children on their own, unaccompanied, imposes the necessity to count on an adequate system of welcome — up to today such a system does not exist and even the system of first reception, with 10 new centers selected by the Interior ministry, is not used systematically and they lack clear and common procedures for the transfer of minors,” Save the Children said.
Laura Boldrini, speaker of the chamber of deputies, slammed public figures who opposed immigration in an apparent reference to the anti-immigration Northern League party, which has sought to whip up xenophobia against migrants in Italy.