Seven migrants have died while attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya in a boat carrying 280 people in cold weather, the mayor of Italy’s Lampedusa island told AFP Tuesday.
Hundreds of people have made the often-deadly journey this year, despite winter weather that once deterred migrants from attempting the crossing, and numbers are expected to rise further.
“Three people died during the crossing, another four suffering severe hypothermia died after they were intercepted by the coast guard and were being transferred to the island,” mayor Toto Martello said.
The Mediterranean Hope migration project said on Twitter that the 280 migrants hailed originally from Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali and Sudan, and “almost all of them were in a severe state of hypothermia”.
The seven dead were Bangladeshi, according to Italian media reports.
“The shocking thing is there continues to be a deafening silence from the Italian government and Europe, even in the face of deaths,” Martello said.
After undergoing coronavirus tests, the survivors were split between the health centre and the heavily overcrowded reception centre on the tiny island, which lies closer to Africa than Italy.
The centre, which can hold 250 migrants, currently houses over 600 people.
Just over 100 were to be transferred Tuesday to a quarantine ship moored off Cala Pisana, one of the island’s tourist spots.
While some 34,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2020, that figure almost doubled to 64,500 people in 2021.
“It’s become a continuous phenomenon. There’s no difference any more between summer and winter, when boats didn’t use to arrive,” Martello said.
“This year, if the start is anything to go by, we’re going to double the number for 2021”.
Despite freezing temperatures and rough seas, over 1,750 people have arrived in Italy so far this month, compared to 379 in the same period last year.