Saturday 23 February 2019

Europe urged not to 'turn a blind eye' as 170 migrants drown

Matteo Salvini: Italian minister has warned about deaths due to more crossings. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Matteo Salvini: Italian minister has warned about deaths due to more crossings. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Andrew Vogt

Scores of migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after two shipwrecks involving vessels that sailed from Libya and Morocco.

At least 170 people were reported to have drowned, including 53 who left Morocco and died after a collision in the Alboran Sea, and 117 whose rubber dinghy sank near Libya.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the high numbers of people dying on Europe's doorstep," said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, urging EU states to support additional search and rescue operations by aid organisations.

Three survivors, two Sudanese and one Gambian, were rescued by an Italian navy helicopter after their dinghy, which they said was carrying 120 people, sank 80km off the Libyan coast.

While being treated for hypothermia on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the traumatised survivors told how they watched as the passengers dropped one-by-one into the sea, including two women who held toddlers above their heads until they ran out of strength and disappeared beneath the waves, along with their children.

"I am alive but the others are all dead," the 22-year-old Gambian told loved ones in a phone call.

The survivors said they left the coast near Gasr Garabulli, east of Tripoli, under the cover of darkness and without life-jackets early on Friday, but began taking on water 10 hours later.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has closed his country's ports to humanitarian boats since a populist ­coalition came to power last May, said the latest shipwreck was "proof that by reopening the ports, more people will die".

Telegraph.co.uk

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