Rome — Police in Italy said one person was arrested on human trafficking charges and two others were suspected of cooperating with smugglers after a boat carrying as many as 200 migrants smashed apart against reefs off Italy’s Calabrian coast over the weekend. Some 80 people were found alive, but at least 62 others were confirmed to have been killed in the disaster and dozens more were feared dead.
Wooden debris from the shattered boat was still being buffeted by rough seas, pushed up along the coast and strewn across the beach in southern Italy on Monday morning — grim evidence of the tragic end of a journey that scores of people hoped would deliver them to a better life.
Some of those who survived the Sunday morning shipwreck sat on the beach huddled in blankets as first responders waded into the rough surf to search for any more survivors, and to collect the dead.
Rescuers recover a body after a migrant boat broke apart in rough seas, at a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.
Giuseppe Pipita / AP
After a team pulled three more bodies from the surf on Monday, pushing the confirmed death toll to 62, provincial fire Cmdr. Roberto Fasano was asked if he thought there might still be survivors found.
«I think no,» he said, «because the sea conditions are too difficult. But we can never abandon this hope.»
More than a dozen of those killed were said to be children — which hit the first responders particularly hard.
«It was a spine-chilling scene,» Firefighter Inspector Giuseppe Larosa said, according to The Associated Press. «Many bodies disseminated on the beach. Among them many children… The thing that struck me the most was their silence. The terror in their eyes and the fact that they were mute. Silent.»
Rescuers recover a body at a beach near Cutro, southern Italy, after a migrant boat broke apart in rough seas, Feb. 26, 2023.
The victims and survivors, believed to be mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, had set off from Turkey’s coast last week in the wooden boat, said to be operated by traffickers. They were spotted by the European Union’s border and coast guard agency, Frontex, over the weekend, but a patrol dispatched to intercept them was forced to turn back due to rough weather.
While Pope Francis offered prayers Sunday, thanking the rescuers, the incident also whipped-up political debate.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed sorrow for the lives «broken by traffickers,» but her relatively new right-wing coalition government has taken a tough stand on migrants, adding new hurdles for charities trying to rescue them, which have been critized by the United Nations.
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Meloni’s Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, who has driven the country’s crackdown on migration, visited the scene Sunday. He told reporters the solution to the migration crisis was to put an end to the risky sea crossings where they begin, and he lamented how it was «possible that these crossings are organized, pushing women and children to make the trips that end up tragically dangerous.»
«It is time for silence, prayer, recollection and deep meditation. But it is also a time in which we must responsibly question ourselves about this latest tragedy,» said Bishop Francesco Savino from the nearby Cassano all’jonio, a Roman Catholic diocese in Calabria.
A view of part of the wreckage of a capsized boat that was washed ashore at a beach near Cutro, in Calabria, southern Italy, Feb. 27, 2023.
«It’s a day of grief for Calabria,» said the governor of the southern Italian region, adding that Calabria «welcomes people… but we can’t be abandoned by Europe.»
Around 105,000 migrants came to Italy in 2022, roughly 38,000 more than the previous year. The country is a regular destination for migrants trying to reach Europe, and it has often pushed other countries in the region to do more.
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s European Commission, urged the bloc’s nations to work together to address the crisis, saying the lack of a unified response had led to the «loss of life of innocent migrants» yet again.