A rubber boat packed with refugees sank in the Mediterranean and the presumed sole survivor, a 16-year-old Gambian boy, told rescuers he believed all other passengers drowned, the International Migration Organization said Wednesday.
A humanitarian vessel, the Luventa, found the boy hanging onto a fuel tank at sea Tuesday. He was transferred first to an Italian Coast Guard ship, then to a Spanish frigate and brought to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early Wednesday.
“He said that everyone else died. But there’s some hope that the Italian Coast Guard picked up others,” said IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo in Rome, after speaking to staff in Lampedusa.
“The boy said they left Sabratha, Libya, a couple days ago on a rubber boat with 147 sub-Saharan Africans on board, including five children and some pregnant women,” Di Giacomo said.
It should become clear Thursday whether others survived, as a Coast Guard vessel disembarks migrants in eastern Sicily that day, he said.
In the past two days, rescuers have picked up more than 1,100 refugees at sea, and recovered one body, Italy’s Coast Guard said.
So far this year nearly 600 people have died trying to reach Italy from North Africa, IOM estimates, after some 4,600 deaths last year. Migrant arrivals to Italy are up more than 50 percent this year in comparison to the same period last year.
Early Wednesday the Golfo Azzurro, a humanitarian vessel, rescued about 400 refugees, mainly from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Gambia and Bangladesh, including 16 women and two children.
They were found drifting in a wooden boat without power about 10 miles off the coast of Sabratha, the most frequently used departure point currently used by people smugglers in Libya, and will now be transported to Sicily.
“My brother back home convinced me to make the trip,” said Gambian Kalifa Kujabi, 17, after the rescue. He said he played for Gambia’s soccer academy and paid US$600 for the passage. “My brother said that I can only have a future as a soccer player in Europe.”
Italy’s Parliament Wednesday approved a law aimed at protecting unaccompanied minors in a measure welcomed by humanitarian groups.
Also Wednesday, the Italian Senate voted to pass a decree that foresees new detention centers for migrants who are to be deported, cutting the length of the appeals process for those whose asylum requests have been rejected.