Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat


Italy's coastguard recovered the bodies of eight migrants in the Mediterranean, officials said Friday, as a debate 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 Thursday, according to Filippo Mannino, the mayor of the tiny island of Lampedusa.

The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he told AFP.

The deaths come ahead of a European Council summit next week at which Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will push for greater assistance from the bloc on managing boat migrants.

Italy's geographical position makes it a prime destination for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe, and Rome has long complained about the number of arrivals.

Mannino said he had only been mayor six months but migrant arrivals were continuous and bodies of those who died were being brought to the island almost weekly.

"The situation is becoming truly dramatic. Europe must do something, the government must do something. I've lost count of the number of dead," he said.

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.

Meloni was visiting Berlin and Stockholm Friday as she attempted to rally support ahead of the summit for EU mechanisms to boost repatriations and readmissions of migrants whose asylum bids fail.

Her new right-wing government has sought to limit the actions of charity vessels that rescue migrants, sparking criticism last week from the Council of Europe that the policy would risk lives.

Baby overboard

Charity vessels only rescue a small percentage -- around 10 percent -- of migrants brought to safety in Italy, with most saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.

But the government accuses charity ships of acting as a pull factor and encouraging people traffickers.

The migrants brought to Lampedusa late Thursday 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 migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday.

The bodies of two people were still missing, ANSA news agency said Friday.

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. Some 1,377 people died or went missing during the crossing last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Hinder life-saving assistance

Rescue charities say they perform an essential role in preventing deaths at sea.

The decree law brought in by Meloni's government 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.

In a letter to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi last week, the Council of Europe warned the decree law "could hinder the provision of life-saving assistance by NGOs in the Central Mediterranean".

It might also "be at variance with Italy's obligations under human rights and international law", Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic wrote.

Piantedosi insisted in a reply Wednesday that the decree was not putting lives at risk.