On Sunday morning, a wooden migrant boat carrying upwards of 200 people sank off the coast of Crotone, Italy. So far, rescuers have recovered 60 bodies, but they fear the death toll could easily reach the 100s. Officials say the boat launched off the coast of Turkey.
The boat sank after crashing into reefs during rough sailing weather, a common trend for human traffickers in the region, with dozens of similar reports showing migrant boats being lost to the sea after being launched during turbulent weather. Some European leaders have made the claim that these human traffickers operate with the blessing of the Turkish authorities. Greece’s Shipping and Island Policy Minister, Yiannis Plakiotakis claims traffickers “start off from Turkey, under the tolerance of Turkish authorities.”
An Italian state TV reporter noted a life preserver bearing the word “Smyrna,” a Turkish port also known as Izmir.
The Italian Coast Guard has stated that 80 people have been found alive, “including some who managed to reach the shore after the sinking.” Red Cross volunteer Ignazio Mangione told the Associated Press, “All of the survivors are adults. Unfortunately, all the children are among the missing or were found dead on the beach.” According to reports, most of the migrants were Afghani, Pakistani, Somalian, and Iranian.
Rescue teams included helicopters, police planes, vessels from state firefighter squads, the Coast Guard, border patrol, and even local fishermen. Search efforts continued through the night in defiance of worsening weather conditions, including the use of rescue divers who struggled dangerously with high waves.
Italy’s President, Sergio Mattarella, has said many of the migrants were fleeing difficult conditions. Pope Francis, a longtime advocate for migrant rights, said during his Sunday Angelus, “I pray for each one of them, for the missing and for other surviving migrants. I thank those who have brought relief and those who are giving shelter.”
In light of this tragedy, many European leaders have called for a change to how the arrival of migrants is handled. In a statement, Sergio Mattarella called for “strong commitment from the international community to remove the fundamental causes of migrant flows: wars, persecution, terrorism, and territories made inhospitable by climate change.”
“It is equally important,” he continued, “that the EU finally assumes concrete responsibility for governing the phenomenon of migrants to take them away from human traffickers by direct efforts in migratory policy.”