(Reuters): Italy's migrant crisis intensifies with murder arrests, drownings

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2015 21:53:45 +0200

Italy's migrant crisis intensifies with murder arrests, drownings

Thu Apr 16, 2015 5:28pm GMT

(Recasts with arrests for murder, adds details, background)

By Stephanie Nebehay and Wladimiro Pantaleone

GENEVA/PALERMO, Italy, April 16 (Reuters) - Italian police arrested 15 African men suspected of throwing about a dozen Christians from a migrant boat in the Mediterranean on Thursday, as the crisis off southern Italy intensified.

Forty-one more deaths were reported in a separate incident.

Police in the Sicilian capital Palermo said they had arrested the men, from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, after survivors reported they had thrown 12 people from Nigeria and Ghana to their deaths and threatened other Christians.

The 15 were arrested on charges of multiple homicide motivated by religious hatred.

"The motive for the resentment was traced to their faiths," police said. "Twelve people are said to have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean, all of them Nigerian and Ghanaian."

The survivors' account underscores the rising chaos in the Mediterranean, which thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and deprivation in Africa, try to cross in rickety boats in the hope of a better life in Europe.

Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates, fewer than arrived in the first four months of last year, but the number of deaths has risen almost nine-fold.

Almost 450 people are now thought to have died this week after rescued migrants brought to the Sicilian port of Trapani on Thursday said 41 others travelling with them had drowned.

About 400 died earlier this week when passengers crowded to one side of their boat, causing it to capsize, survivors said.

Traffickers take advantage of a breakdown of order in Libya to charge some $1,000 for every migrant to whom they give a passage. Some also turn violent, threatening coast guards with machine guns to avoid having their boats confiscated.

The murder suspects were among almost 100 migrants brought to Palermo on Wednesday. The arrests were made on the basis of testimony from about 10 survivors, who said they had left Libya in a rubber boat on Tuesday, police said.

Italy phased out a dedicated maritime search and rescue operation called "Mare Nostrum" or "Our Sea" late last year, making way for a European Union border control mission.

The EU operation, called Triton, has been criticised by humanitarian groups and Italian authorities as it has a much smaller budget and a narrower remit than Mare Nostrum. (Reporting by Wladimir Pantaleone in Sicily and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Mediterranean migrant smugglers 'violent and audacious' - agencies - TRFN

Wed Apr 15, 2015 11:01pm GMT

By Tom Esslemont

LONDON, April 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Many migrants who survive the perilous sea crossing to Europe from North Africa are physically and sexually abused by the smugglers who organise their journey, according to testimony gathered by aid workers in Italy.

"We can clearly say that violence is one of the methods used to control migrants," said Stefano Di Carlo, Head of Mission for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), the medical aid agency.

His observations show there is a pattern in which traffickers are using increasingly audacious tactics to carry out the dangerous crossing.

In December and January successive groups of migrants, many from Syria or the Horn of Africa, were stranded aboard large vessels placed on a collision course with the Italian coast, having been abandoned by their crew.

About 400 migrants are believed to have died when their crowded boat capsized on the way to Italy from Libya on Tuesday.

"Clearly the safety of the migrants is not the traffickers' top priority," said Di Carlo, whose teams assist migrants arriving along the southern coast of Sicily.

Migrants report having to pay huge sums before leaving Libya for a place on a boat, with estimates ranging from $400 to $2500 per person.

"Some migrants, who've fled persecution in their countries of origin, change their minds when they get to the beach, so smugglers force them to get on board, with knives, sticks and guns," said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Anyone who refuses to go risks imprisonment, Di Giacomo says.

One young Somali woman, having crossed the Libyan desert to reach the North African coast, told MSF she was taken hostage when she arrived. While waiting for her family to send a $1,500 ransom fee, she was beaten, she said.

"Other women were raped," she told MSF on arrival in Italy.

"I was not raped because I speak Arabic [the language of her captors]."

In Libya, a fragile government has struggled to maintain law and order as rival militias fight for control.

"Civil conflict creates the conditions for aggravated smuggling to thrive," says Christopher Horwood, Coordinator, Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) in Nairobi.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Yury Fedotov, the director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said "migrant smuggling exploits desperation and provides the criminal networks with enormous profits."

The organisation aims to train frontline anti-trafficking officers, but a UNODC spokesman said its operations in Libya were discontinued in 2014 because of the rapid deterioration of the political and security situation.

(Reporting By Tom Esslemont; Editing by Tim Pearce)

Received on Thu Apr 16 2015 - 15:53:45 EDT

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