At least 20 people were feared dead after a boat carrying hundreds of migrants to Europe capsized in stormy seas near the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to reports.
Following the accident on Saturday, 149 migrants have been rescued, including 13 women and three children, but dozens were still missing, the Italian coastguard said in a statement.
Five bodies, all female, were recovered on Sunday by Italian officials.
According to an initial reconstruction of events, the boat was carrying more than 160 people and had departed from Libya the previous day, taking advantage of a break in the bad weather. But according to the survivors, it soon ran into trouble when the wind whipped up.
Rough weather has hampered the search for those missing.
Lampedusa boat tragedy: a survivor’s story
The onset of autumn has not stopped migrants from attempting to reach Europe. On Thursday, the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms announced on Twitter it had rescued 73 migrants onboard a struggling boat early that morning. The NGO said some of the migrants were in shock and had “second to third-degree burns, gunshot wounds’’.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 120 people were taken onboard the Ocean Viking, a rescue vessel operated by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders.
On Monday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Italy of sharing responsibility for migrants’ rights violations by Libya.
Early in November, Italy renewed its deal with the UN-backed government in Tripoli under which the Libyan coastguard stops migrant boats at sea and sends their passengers back to the north African country, where aid agencies say they face torture and abuse.
Intense criticism followed an October report by Italian newspaper Avvenire, revealing that a series of meetings in May 2017 between Italian officials and a Libyan delegation to discuss controls on migration flows from north Africa was also attended by a man described as one of the world’s most notorious human traffickers. The alleged trafficker, Abd al-Rahman Milad, nicknamed “Bija”, is a captain in the Libyan coastguard.
On Tuesday, Italy’s former far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, was once again placed under formal investigation by prosecutors in Agrigento for allegedly kidnapping 83 migrants whom, last August, he had refused to disembark from an NGO rescue vessel.
’’Another investigation against me for having defended Italy’s borders? This is another medal for me and I would do it again’’, said Salvini, who, in June 2018 and while still in office, had declared Italian seaports closed to charity vessels saving shipwrecked asylum seekers.