22 migrants 'crushed, drowned' in dinghy horror

The International Organization for Migration estimates some 3,000 people are dead or missing after trying to reach the European Union by sea so far this year Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters Trapani, Sicily, Italy Jul 22, 2016, 12.58 PM (IST)
Hundreds of rescued migrants arrived to safety at the Sicilian port of Trapani on Friday (July 22) according to the Italian coastguard.

The bodies of 21 women and one man were also brought to the port by humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) after being found on a rubber dinghy adrift near the Libyan coast earlier in the week.

An MSF ship patrolling the central Mediterranean came to the rescue of two dinghies that were sailing close together and managed to pull 209 people, including 50 children, to safety.

However, 22 migrants were found dead at the bottom of the first dinghy, lying in a pool of fuel.

Red Cross workers held roses and stood in silence on the portside in Trapani, Sicily, as the bodies of 21 women and a man were carried off a rescue ship, placed in wooden coffins and loaded into hearses.

Survivors told MSF the victims had drowned in 30 centimetres (12 inches) of water and fuel.

"People were trying not to slip into (the) pool of fuel/water in (the) middle of (the) dinghy, but when they moved to the sides more water came in," a survivor named only as David was quoted as saying on MSFs Twitter feed. 

The overcrowded dinghy was deflating on one side. Those aboard began trying to bail out the water, which rose quickly to knee high.

"Girls sitting down in centre started to panic, tried to get up," he said. "The bodies were on the floor under water, we were shouting and praying to be rescued." 

MSF said many of the 209 survivors were crying as they disembarked, and the charity was offering psychological support. Among those saved by the MS Aquarius were two pregnant women and 50 children, 45 of whom were travelling without their parents.It was not the first tragedy to be caused by panic onboard over fears of sinking. 

Desperate migrants all too often cause their own shipwrecks as they tip their unstable crafts over by waving frantically for help or attempting to bail out water. 

Since 2014, more than 10,000 migrants have died or are feared to have drowned while attempting the perilous journey to Europe by sea, most losing their lives in the central Mediterranean, the UNHCR says.

Nearly 3,000 have died or been lost at sea during the crossing so far this year. That represents a sharp increase on the same period in 2015, when 1,870 people died, according to MSF.

"Our experience is that the number of migrant boats -- simple dinghies with hundreds of people massed on them -- driven to leave by the difficult situation in Libya, are on the rise," Loris De Filippi, head of MSF Italy, said Thursday.

(Reuters, AFP)
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