Updated Feb 26, 2023 - World

Dozens dead as boat carrying migrants hits rocks in Southern Italy

migrants (L and C) wrapped in a blanket, and rescuers (R) in Steccato di Cutro

Migrants wrapped in blankets, and rescuers, in Steccato di Cutro, after their boat sank off Italy's southern Calabria region on Feb. 26. Photo: ANSA/AFP via Getty Images

At least 59 people have died after a boat carrying migrants crashed against the rocks off the coast of southern Italy early Sunday, Italy's fire and rescue service said Sunday.

Driving the news: A total of 80 survivors have been found, and search and rescue operations are continuing, the Italian coast guard said in a statement earlier Sunday.

  • The shipwreck occurred near the seaside resort of Steccato di Cutro, off the coast of Calabria, the region that forms the tip of Italy's boot.
  • The death toll is likely to rise, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said in a joint statement Sunday.

The big picture: Splintered wood and parts of the boat have washed up on the shore of Steccato di Cutro, AP reported.

  • The Mayor of Cutro, Antonio Ceraso, said the boat had "disintegrated" in stormy conditions, per Reuters. Women and children were among the fatalities.
  • Estimates of how many migrants were aboard the boat varied, though Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in a statement Sunday that 200 people were on board.
  • More than 170 people were on board, including children and family units, acording to UNHCR and IOM.
  • Italian AGI news agency reported that a months-old baby was among the victims, per Al Jazeera.
  • The boat had departed from Izmir, Turkey several days ago carrying people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, a local government official said, per Al Jazeera.
  • One survivor was arrested on migrant trafficking charges, Italy's customs police said, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: "Yet another horrific shipwreck has claimed the lives of dozens of people, including children - this time off the coast of Italy," António Guterres, UN Secretary General tweeted Sunday.

  • "I say once again: Every person searching for a better life deserves safety & dignity. We need safe, legal routes for migrants & refugees," he added

"Another terrible shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the Italian coast. Dozens of people have died, many children. We mourn them and stand in solidarity with the survivors," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted Sunday.

  • "Time for States to stop arguing and to agree on just, effective, shared measures to avoid more tragedies," Grandi added.

State of play: In 2022, Europe saw its highest migration numbers since 2017.

  • While the Calabrian coast has seen little migration until recently, tightening restrictions in Greece has seen traffickers in Turkey chart a new route to bypass the Greek islands and bring migrants to Calabria, according to the Washington Post.
  • Meloni's far-right government has taken a hard line on migration since coming into office last year. Earlier this week, Italy's parliament passed a law that would restrict the ability of humanitarian rescue ships to make more than one rescue at a time.
  • "More people in distress will be made to suffer and more lives risk being lost because timely help is not available, if this law is passed,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said earlier this month.
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