The tragedy of African migrants who pay with their lives to reach Europe to escape poverty or some type of persecution or another occurring all around this great, big world of ours, became a human drama, as hundreds perished in a matter of hours off the Italian coast on Thursday.
A 66-foot smuggler’s boat, carrying 500 migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, caught fire near the Lampedusa port, Italian authorities said. Panick struck those onboard who stampeded to one side, causing the boat to flip over and carry hundreds of men, women and children, many of whom could not swim, overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.
Italian coast guard boats carrying divers headed out from the southern island of Lampedusa again on Friday to recover more bodies but choppy waters hampered their search for the hundreds still missing. On Friday officials said 155 people were rescued, but with an estimated 250 people still missing the death toll of 111 is expected to rise. Four babies and one pregnant woman were among the dead.
Pope Francis called Friday “day of tears,” denouncing the “savage” system that he said drives people to leave their homes for a better life, yet doesn’t care when they die in the process. Though many of the vessels carrying these emigrants aren’t even seaworthy, migrants still attempt the journey in search of a new life, with plenty of traffickers who’ll take their money. Smugglers often charge thousands of dollars a head for a spot on these overcrowded, battered boats with the obligatory ‘no life jacket’.
Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths, reported that at this time of year, when the sea is fairly calm, boats carrying migrants from Africa and the Middle East land on Italian shores almost every day. An astonishing 6,450 people have died in the Canal of Sicily alone between 1994 and 2012.
A young Tunisian man, believed to be one of the crew members and a suspected trafficker, has been detained. Prosecutors have opened an inquiry for multiple murder, and one for facilitating illegal immigration.