Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

Italian police said on Saturday they had arrested an Egyptian national suspected of trafficking migrants across the Mediterranean during a trip that left seven people dead from hypothermia.

Migrants in Italy
Migrant crisis in Italy. Photo: Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

The suspect is accused of organising the dangerous crossing by a boat carrying 287 people from Libya. Most were suffering from the cold when they were rescued by the coast guard on January 25th.

Police in the Sicilian city of Agrigento said in a statement that the ordeal on the overcrowded, 16-metre boat ended “with the death, by hypothermia, of seven Bangladeshi citizens, due to the inhumane conditions of the voyage”.

The 38-year-old suspect, who was identified through witness testimony of survivors, had already been sentenced in a 2011 people-smuggling crime in Sicily, police said, without providing further detail.

Winter weather has not been a deterrent for migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year despite freezing temperatures and rough seas.

So far this year, some 10,570 migrants have reached Europe by sea, out of a total of 11,986, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Some 229 have died or gone missing in the attempt to reach the continent.

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Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat off Sicily

Italy's coastguard has recovered the bodies of eight people who died of cold and hunger in the Mediterranean, officials said on Friday, as a spat rages over Rome's crackdown on rescue boats in the world's deadliest crossing.

Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat off Sicily

Rescuers found the bodies of five men and three women – one of whom was pregnant – in a boat late on Thursday, Filippo Mannino, the mayor of the islandof Lampedusa, told AFP.

The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he said.

The rescued migrants were soaked through and those who perished were believed to have died of cold and hunger, according to Italian media reports, citing translators who spoke to the survivors.

The bodies of two people were still missing, Italy’s Ansa news agency said.

Survivors said a four-month-old baby on board had died, and his mother in her grief had put the body in the sea. A man then jumped in to recover it, but drowned, they said, according to Ansa.

The baby’s mother was believed to be one of the three women who died.

READ ALSO: ‘More will drown’: Italy accused of breaking international law on migrant rescues

The migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday.

The deaths came as Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner urged Italy’s government to scrap or rewrite a new anti-immigration decree that takes aim at charity rescue vessels operating in the central Mediterranean.

The new decree adopted by the Italian government is considered a breach of international law, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a letter to Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Thursday.

“I am concerned that the application of some of these rules could hinder the provision of life-saving assistance by NGOs in the Central Mediterranean and, therefore, may be at variance with Italy’s obligations under human rights and international law,” Mijatovic wrote.

Nearly 5,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, according to the interior ministry, up from just over 3,000 in the same period last year and 1,000 in 2021.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government has accused charity ships of encouraging people traffickers.

Charity vessels only rescue around 10 percent of migrants brought to safety in Italy, while most are saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.