170 migrants lost at sea as dinghies sink

An estimated 170 migrants have been lost in the Mediterranean in two incidents involving dinghies that left from Libya and Morocco, migrants organisations said yesterday.

One dinghy was spotted sinking in rough waters on Friday by an Italian military plane on patrol. The plane dropped two safety rafts into the water but had to leave due to a lack of fuel. A naval helicopter was dispatched and rescued three people who were suffering from severe hypothermia and taken to hospital on the island of Lampedusa.

The three survivors said they had left Gasr Garabulli in Libya on Thursday night as part of a group of 120 people, mainly from west Africa.

“After 10 to 11 hours at sea the boat started sinking and people started drowning,” said a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), adding the passengers included 10 women and two children, one of whom was just two months old.

In another incident, 53 migrants who left Morocco on a dinghy were missing after what one survivor said was a collision in the Alboran Sea, in the western Mediterranean.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, who has closed off Italian ports to humanitarian boats since his populist government came to power in mid-2018, said the ports would remain closed to deter to human traffickers.

“The latest shipwreck is proof that if you reopen the ports more people will die,” Salvini claimed in a video on Facebook on Saturday.

He said 100 people had reached Italy so far this year compared with 2,000 in the same period of 2018.

Migrant arrivals to Europe in the first 16 days of 2019 totalled 4,449 – almost all by sea, compared with 2,964 in the same period of 2018, IOM data showed. It said last year, some 2,297 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean while 116,959 people reached Europe by sea.

Meanwhile, German lawmakers have approved a government plan to declare Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Georgia safe countries of origin, a move meant to deter migrants from those countries and streamline the handling of asylum applications.

But the chances of getting the legislation on the books look questionable because it requires approval by parliament’s upper house, where opposition politicians object to declaring the North African countries safe. As it is, few citizens of those countries obtain asylum.

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