Three suspected people-smugglers have been arrested over the deaths of at least 65 migrants, who perished when their boat sank on Sunday in heavy seas off southern Italy.
The trio, a man from Turkiye and two Pakistanis, are believed to have been on the vessel when it sank, along with between 170 and 200 others. The Reuters news agency said police are looking for a fourth suspect, a man from Turkiye, who may have died in the sinking or made it ashore and fled.
Around 80 people are known to have made it safely ashore. The Italian authorities believe others may have survived but be unaccounted for, and they say many more bodies likely await recovery. Officials believe the final death toll could be more than 100.
Most of the people on the boat were from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria and were attempting to illegally enter the European Union. Charities have said around 20,000 migrants have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.
The authorities in Pakistan have said 16 Pakistanis are known to have survived the disaster, and four are missing. Afghanistan said on Tuesday 80 Afghanis may have died in the sinking off the Italian city of Crotone.
The boat the migrants were on is thought to have left the Turkish port of Izmir several days before it broke up on rocks in poor weather.
The BBC said migrants each paid the smugglers around 8,000 euros ($8,500).
Meanwhile, a minister in Italy’s government who was criticized for the alleged slow response to the sinking has drawn criticism for claiming blame for the deaths of children lies with their parents.
The United Kingdom’s Express newspaper quoted Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi as saying: “Desperation can never justify traveling in conditions that endanger the lives of their children.”
His comments prompted Alessandra Maiorino, a senator with the opposition Five Star party, to say he demonstrated “inhumane cynicism “and should resign.
Survivors of the sinking have blamed people-smugglers for Sunday’s deaths, with one telling the Italian newspaper La Stampa people were thrown overboard as the boat started to sink in an apparent attempt to reduce its weight.
“The traffickers started to throw kids out, they grabbed them by the arm and threw them in the sea,” the survivor said.
The paper said another survivor claimed at least 20 people were pushed overboard.