The death toll of a migrant boat which sank in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday near the southern Italian city of Crotone has risen to 62, the coastguard confirmed to AFP on Monday and reported by the Belga News Agency.
The boat, which is believed to have left the Turkish city of Izmir three to four days earlier with 180 people aboard, split in two and sank after hitting the rocks a few metres off the coast in harsh weather conditions. Images from Italian police and AFP showed wooden debris scattered along 100 metres of the beach.
The tragedy made the headlines in the Italian press on Monday. The headline in the Turin daily La Stampa read "The massacre of the innocent", with a photo of the wreckage of the boat. According to the Rai News television channel, 33 women and 14 children were among the victims. Some 80 migrants were rescued, of whom 22 were hospitalised.
Three people, suspected of being the smugglers, have been arrested as part of the investigation, Italian state media Rai reported. However, this information has not yet been confirmed by judicial sources.
Expressing her "deep sorrow", the head of the far-right government, Giorgia Meloni, attacked the smugglers on Sunday, saying it was "criminal to put 200 people on board a 20-metre boat with a bad weather forecast." Her Brothers of Italy party have often taken a hard line against immigration, also pointing the finger in her statement to those who have "exalted the illusion of unregulated immigration" in a political attack.
The head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called on the same day for progress on the reform of the right to asylum in the European Union, after this "tragedy". She said that "we must redouble our efforts on the Pact on Migration and Asylum and on the Action Plan for the Central Mediterranean."
Italy blames its EU partners for a lack of solidarity in the distribution of migrants as many of them are seeking to leave the peninsula to reach other countries in the EU. The country's geographical location makes it the first port of call for asylum seekers coming from North Africa to Europe.
Under the EU's Dublin regulation, they must apply for asylum there even if they are not planing to settle in Italy. The regulation has been at the centre of many disputes between southern and northern Member States, who have clashed over the principle shared responsibilities in the EU when it comes to asylum reception.
- Italy denies deporting refugees to Greece on private commercial ships
- 'People will die': EU continues to neglect rescue operations in sea migration routes
According to the Ministry of the Interior, almost 14,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared to about 5,200 in the same period last year and 4,200 in 2021.
NGOs recover only a small percentage of migrants seeking to reach Europe at sea, most of whom are rescued by the coastguard or navy vessels. However, the government accuses these NGOs of stimulating migrant arrivals and encouraging traffickers.