Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Tragedy in the Mediterranean

Italy says hundreds of migrants may have drowned when their boats capsised while crossing from Egypt to Italy, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hundreds of migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their boats capsised while crossing from Egypt to Italy, according to reports. The migrants are believed to come from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

A BBC report on Sunday said that more than 400 migrants — mostly Somalis — drowned in the Mediterranean as they attempted to reach Europe. An official in the Somalia Embassy in Cairo expressed fear that more than 400 migrants may have drowned after their boats capsised, according to the report. It also said that the refugees were fleeing to Italy in four boats that were ill equipped for the journey.

The report was followed by a statement by Italian President Sergio Mattarella who said there seemed to have been “yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean”.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni confirmed the incident but said he was waiting for more details. “What is sure is that we are again with a tragedy in the Mediterranean, exactly one year after the tragedy we had ... in Libyan waters,” Gentiloni said, referring to the April 2015 incident in which a fishing boat full of refugees sank in the Mediterranean, killing 800 people.

“This is another strong reason for Europe to commit itself not in building walls but in strengthening our common commitment towards migration, especially towards Africa,” Gentiloni said.

By Tuesday, the original flurry of reports had yet to be confirmed by Egyptian officials. Nevertheless, Reuters’ Aswat Masriya website quoted an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official as saying communication with the Italian authorities was underway “to know the details of the incident and whether there were Egyptian nationals on board the sunken boat that is believed to have capsised in Egypt’s territorial waters.”

Italy has promised to raise the shipwreck from the sea floor to recover corpses.

On Monday, according to the UK’s Independent online newsite, the Italian coastguard said 108 refugees had been rescued and six bodies recovered on Sunday from a semi-submerged rubber dinghy. Separately, 33 refugees were rescued overnight off the eastern coast of Sicily.

In the past year, Egypt’s navy has prevented a number of illegal crossings over the Mediterranean, frequently publishing photographs of thwarted migration attempts. A particularly horrific incident happened in early September 2014 when survivors who departed from Damietta reported to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that 500 migrants had drowned when their boat was deliberately sunk by smugglers.

Eight hundred people have died in 2016 trying to reach Europe, according to the United Nations. The IOM reports that 177,207 migrants, including refugees, arrived by sea to Europe in 2015. However, 732 migrants were either killed or declared missing at sea.

Almost 6,000 refugees sailed from Libya to Italy last week in what appears to be the beginning of a wave of 100,000 expected refugees, the IOM said.

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