(CNN) — At least 58 people, including an infant, children and several women, have died after a wooden boat carrying migrants crashed on rocks off the Italian coast of Calabria, said Manuela Cora, the official of the Crotone region.
The death toll is tentative and likely to rise. Bad weather in this part of the Mediterranean is hampering search efforts by making the debris field larger.
The first three bodies appeared on the beach near the resort of Staccato di Cutro in southern Italy around 4:40 am local time, Sunday.
The Reuters news agency reported that the boat left the Turkish city of Izmir three or four days ago, with 140 to 150 people on board.
The Italian fire brigade told CNN that about 80 people were rescued from the water caught by parts of the boat. They added that the survivors were from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, blamed the traffickers. “It is criminal to launch a boat only 20 meters long, with 200 people on board, in bad weather. It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of a ticket under the wrong perspective of a safe journey,” it said in a statement.
Interior Minister Matteo Bentedosi added that new measures must be taken to curb such risky journeys. “It is necessary to continue with every possible initiative to stop the departures, and to discourage crossings in any way that takes advantage of the illusory mirage of a better life,” he said in a statement.
Meloni has made stopping migrant boats a priority for her far-right government. Parliament this week approved new laws that make it more difficult for NGOs to carry out rescue operations.
In the Vatican, Sunday, referring to the victims of the shipwreck, Pope Francis said: “I pray for each one of them and for the missing and for the other migrants who survived. I thank those who help them and those who help them. May the Virgin Mary help these brothers and sisters.”
UNHCR records show that 11,874 people have arrived in Italy so far in 2023 by sea, with 678 of them arriving in Calabria.
Arrivals usually come from African countries, more than the Middle East and Asia, with the majority of boats starting from Libya.
Only 8.3% of the expatriates are from Pakistan, 6.7% are from Afghanistan and 0.7% are from Iran. The remainder are mainly from Africa, with 17.3% of arrivals arriving from Côte d’Ivoire alone, and 13.1% from Guinea. Other African countries, including those in North Africa, make up most of the rest.
The Central Mediterranean route is the deadliest migration route, with at least 20,334 people having died since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project.
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