ROME (AFP) – Italy’s coastguard has recovered the bodies of eight migrants in the Mediterranean, officials said yesterday, as a spat rages over Rome’s crackdown on rescue charities in the world’s deadliest crossing.
Rescuers found the bodies of five men and three women – one of whom was pregnant – in a boat late on Thursday, the mayor of the island of Lampedusa Filippo Mannino told AFP.
The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he said.
The rescued migrants were soaked through and those who perished were believed to have died of cold and hunger, according to Italian media reports, citing translators who spoke to the survivors.
The bodies of two people were still missing, ANSA news agency said.
Survivors said a four-month-old baby on board had died, and his mother in her grief had put the body in the sea. A man then jumped in to recover it, but drowned, they said, according to ANSA.
The baby’s mother was believed to be one of the three women who died. The migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of last Saturday.
The deaths came as Italy’s new right-wing government sparred with the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights agency, over its crackdown on charity rescue vessels.
Nearly 5,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, according to the interior ministry, up from just over 3,000 in the same period last year and 1,000 in 2021.
Charity vessels only rescue a small percentage – around 10 per cent – of migrants brought to safety in Italy, while most are saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.
But Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government has accused charity ships of acting as a pull factor and encouraging people traffickers.
A decree law brought in at the start of January tightens the rules, obliging charity ships to only perform one rescue at a time.
They have also been routinely ordered to take survivors to ports in northern rather than southern Italy.
Those journeys are much longer and more costly and the charities warn it reduces their abilities to help those in need and will lead to more deaths.