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Eight asylum seekers killed off Italian island of Lampedusa

February 3, 2023

The coastguard was able to save 42 people on the vessel that had gone adrift. NGOs and local lawmakers criticized right-wing leaders in Rome for making the crossing more unsafe without addressing the underlying issues.

The Italian coastguard on Lampedusa
Survivors said that two more people, on top of the eight victims found by the coast guard, had died by falling overboard Image: Concetta Rizzo/ANSA/picture alliance

The Italian coastguard said on Friday that at least eight asylum seekers, two of them a baby and his mother, had died during a particularly harrowing crossing from Tunisia to Italy. 

Officers were able to rescue 42 others, who came from several countries including Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The boat had left Tunisia last weekend, but ran into bad weather and frigid temperatures that the small vessel was not equipped to deal with. The Italian coastguard was alerted to the emergency by Maltese officials, as the ship was in a busy area of the Mediterranean controlled my Malta.

Italy's hard line on migration leaves hundreds in limbo

Hardline stance against irregular migration

The tragedy highlighted the human cost of the hardline policy right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has taken on migrant crossings from Libya and Tunisia.

Harshly prosecuting volunteer rescue boats that used to operate in those waters had greatly reduced the amount of assistance offered to stranded asylum seekers, but it has not stopped desperate people being lured onto unsafe boats by people smugglers.

"It is unacceptable that a shipwreck in the Maltese search and rescue region has once again claimed victims when it could have been avoided. It is time for these tragedies to stop," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a tweet.

Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino then wrote on Facebook: "How much longer must all this go on? How many more corpses must this island receive?"

During a visit to Germany on Friday, Prime Minister Meloni said she was sticking to her attempts to curb irregular immigration.

Some 4,963 migrants have reached Italy by sea so far this year against 3,035 in the same period in 2022 and 1,039 in 2021, according to Interior Ministry data.

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es/jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)