ROME — At least 15 African migrants lost their lives Sunday in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya when their vessel capsized while attempting to cross the perilous Strait of Sicily to Italy.
The Libyan Coast Guard managed to rescue 95 survivors of the shipwreck, bringing them back to the African coast.
The international organization for migration (IOM) said that others may still be missing, since the rubber dinghy reportedly was carrying some 125 migrants when it embarked from the Libyan coastal town of Zawiya on Friday.
“The IOM teams are now assisting the survivors, many of whom suffer from burns and hypothermia,” the organization stated.
“At least 15 migrants drowned while 95 others were returned to shore by the coast guard today,” wrote IOM spokeswoman Safa Mhsehli on Twitter. “Tragedies and avoidable loss of life continue as a policy of silence and inaction persists.”
“Last night 125 people called us on a raft off the coast #Libia,” wrote the open-borders NGO Alarm Phone on its Twitter feed Sunday. “They said the dinghy was deflating and there were people overboard. They asked for urgent help.”
“They were 8km from the coast but the so-called Libyan coast guard does not intervene!” the NGO complained.
“We have warned all the authorities but the so-called Libyan coast guard replied that it refuses to intervene,” the group said in a separate tweet. “As usual, the European and Libyan authorities prefer to let people die at sea than to get them to Europe. We demand immediate help for the 125 people.”
After a similar occurrence last month, the leader of Italy’s Lega party, Matteo Salvini, sounded the alarm over growing numbers of illegal immigrants reaching Italy’s shores.
“Five million legal immigrants in Italy, they are my brothers and sisters,” Salvini wrote on Twitter. “On the other hand, landings and illegal immigration generate problems. I believe that with Draghi we will be in harmony, the borders of Italy are the borders of Europe.”
Salvini has been a harsh critic of NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea, accusing them of inducing migrants to undertake a dangerous journey by providing them with a free “taxi service” and of being complicit in the trafficking of persons.
After he stepped down from his post as interior minister, Salvini blamed the ensuing sharp increase in migrant sea deaths on the leftist government’s open-port policy.
“These deaths are the results of do-gooders, of ‘there is room for everyone,’ of open ports, of renewed enthusiasm for the smugglers,” Salvini said 2019.
“The number of landings has tripled. Those who allowed the ports to be reopened, do they mourn these dead people?” the League party leader added.
Sunday’s shipwreck was the latest along the Central Mediterranean migration route. Last week, international agencies said that at least 41 people had drowned when their boat capsized off Libya on February 20.
According to IOM statistics, more than 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean since 2014.