Fifteen Muslims from different African countries have been arrested in Sicily for allegedly murdering 12 Christians and throwing their corpses into the sea during a crossing from Libya to Italy. They are being charged with multiple homicide “aggravated by religious hatred.”
According to eyewitnesses, the boat was ferrying 105 immigrants from Libya to the Sicilian coast on the night of April 14 when a group of Muslims on board began harassing the Christians, from Nigeria and Ghana, threatening to toss them into the sea. The harassment soon became physical assault, resulting in the deaths of the 12 men.
The suspected perpetrators of the crime—from the Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea Bissau—are being held at the Pigliarelli prison in Palermo and are being charged with murder under the law governing crimes committed in international waters.
One of the passengers on the boat, Ebrima Jaiteh, described the journey as “hell.”
“In Tripoli they treated us like animals. They beat us. They shouted at us. They took all our money,” he said. “No human being should have to go through this. I thank God we made it. Many of my friends in different boats did not.”
These passengers were just a part of a new wave of more than 10,000 African immigrants who have arrived on Italian shores in the period of just a week, as more temperate weather has made the crossing more appealing and political tensions in Africa have intensified.
Sergio Chiamparino, the president of a regional assembly, has called the situation “a true humanitarian emergency.”
On Friday morning, 41 immigrants drowned after their rubber boat sank attempting to make the crossing from Tripoli to the Italian coast. A reconnaissance plane spotted a group of survivors in the Strait of Sicily and alerted authorities. By the time the Italian Navy vessel Foscari arrived at the scene, however, only four survivors remained of the original 45 passengers on board the small craft.
The European Union has declared the migratory situation in the Mediterranean to be critical. According to a statement by a spokesperson for the Brussels Commission, the situation “is grave and will get worse in the coming weeks and months.”
He warned, however, that “the European Commission cannot do everything by itself. We are putting all our effort into the formulation of a comprehensive plan, but we have no cure-all that can solve all these problems at once.”
The United Nations has acknowledged that Italy is bearing “a large burden on behalf of Europe.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome