According to humanitarian agencies, as many as 300 migrants belonging to impoverished Sub-Saharan countries might have lost their lives in the freezing cold waters of the Mediterranean. The dead belonged to the same group as the 29 migrants who died of hypothermia earlier this week inspite of a perilous rescue mission by the Italian Coast Guard.
Those who have survived are telling horrific tales of several small boats capsizing on being overwhelmed by mighty waves of the Mediterranean, tossing their companions into the frigid waters.
The spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Carlotta Sami, says survivors have confirmed the existence of a rubber boat that left Libya on Sunday. In a statement, the UNHCR says that means some 300 people are missing. Earlier, the agency cited survivors from other vessels as saying 203 people had died in the crossing.
The latest fatal episode at sea has drawn immediate attention and criticism about the new European Union program to patrol the shores. The present system replaced a far more effective Italian operation Mare Nostrum that was disbanded last fall.
The EU ‘s Triton that took over after the Mare Nostrum being disbanded operation last year patrols only close to Europe’s coast as compared to the previous operation that had patrolled the waters up to the Libyan coast.
Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, lamented over “another preventable tragedy on the Mediterranean,” via a tweet.
Referring to the current European migrant protection program, he added: “The E.U. needs effective search and rescue. Triton does not meet this need.”
According to survivors’ accounts, four inflatable boats sailed from a port near Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday, but only one was located and rescued by Italy’s Coast Guard. Nine survivors of two other rubber boats were later collected by a merchant ship, but there is so far no evidence of the fourth vessel. More than 100 people were aboard each of the rubber boats, survivors said.
Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Italy, said that migrants had been “swallowed up by the waves.”
“They were all sub-Saharan Africans, the human cargoes of the smugglers,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Italy. “Many told us that they were threatened with knives and guns to get aboard. They were scared; they realized the sea was too rough to make it.”
The youngest of those killed by the freezing waters was aged only 12.