Italy arrests eight over asphyxiated migrants

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Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
13:59 CEST+02:00
Italy on Tuesday announced the arrest of eight suspected people smugglers blamed for the death of 49 migrants asphyxiated in the hold of a sinking ship at the weekend.

The men stand accused of condemning the victims to their deaths by forcing them to stay in the ship's broiling, fume-filled hold. They were identified by survivors of the sinking after they were all brought to Catania in Sicily on Monday.

The alleged traffickers were three Moroccans, including the 20-year-old captain of the ill-fated vessel, four Libyans and a 17-year-old Syrian.

The 13-metre vessel left Libya overnight Friday-Saturday with 362 people onboard - so overcrowded that the traffickers were desperate to ensure those in the hold remained there to keep it stable.

"Anyone who tried to get a bit of air was punched, kicked and hit with sticks or belts to keep them in," Catania prosecutor Michelangelo Patane told a press conference.

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Of the more than 300 migrants who survived the sinking, 116 were Moroccan nationals who are to be repatriated in the next few days. The others, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan, will be moved to reception centres across Italy pending possible asylum requests.

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