BREAKING: If the reports of two survivors prove to be true, 500 migrants from North Africa have been deliberately killed by human traffickers, who sank their boat following a dispute. If confirmed, this is the worst incident of its kind, amounting to mass murder, an official of the International Organization for Migration told EURACTIV.
Leonard Doyle, IOM spokesperson in Italy, confirmed news broken by Maltese media that 500 migrants who were attempting to travel by boat from North Africa to Europe are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after their boat was sunk on purpose by traffickers.
The migrants, including many families and unaccompanied children, had left the Egyptian port city of Damiette on 6 September. According to Doyle, two of the migrants aboard the ship, who survived at sea for nearly two days, told the story that at some point the traffickers got into a dispute with the migrants, and sank the boat.
The dispute erupted after the traffickers asked the immigrants to board a smaller ship, which they saw as too dangerous. Smaller ships are abandoned by traffickers, while bigger ships are reused and lure prospective migrants on the Northern African shore, who imagine that they would be safe on board until they reach Europe.
“Some of [the migrants] were picked up by a Maltese and some by a Greek vessel. We’ve interviewed these two survivors, people who said they are survivors, and this is what they said”, Doyle said.
Asked about the magnitude of the incident as reported, Doyle said “of course this is mass murder”, provided that it is confirmed. “We don’t know what it is, [for the time being] we have allegations,” he said.
Asked if he could compare this incident with other violence reported in the past, Doyle explained that there have been cases when immigrants have been thrown overboard, or stabbed.
“This is obviously of a different order, but it’s in line with what we have heard before,” he said.
Asked if the two survivors could be considered as independent sources, Doyle responded that they seem to be independent.
“They seem to have been rescued separately […] We have one survivor validated by the other, for the moment,” he said.
Reportedly, one of the survivors was clinging on a life raft with seven people, of which five had disappeared in the sea, and was rescued by the Greek merchant ship Pegasus.
Asked how he could compare this incident with previous experience, Doyle said, “It looks like this is the worse incident that we’ve seen. It looks like certainly the worst this year, if it’s validated. Obviously, if it’s true, it’s very, very serious,” he said.
Asked if the EU response to the immigration challenge across the Mediterranean has been adequate, Doyle said that he could only confirm that the number of deaths was growing.
“It’s already more this year than last year, while it is declining in other parts of the world.”