More than 80 dead as boat of migrants sinks off Italian coast
Deaths come months after Pope criticised 'global indifference' to refugee crisis on Sicilian island
MORE than 80 people have died after a boat sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa today – the second fatal boat disaster off the coast of Italy this week.
A fishing boat pulled around 60 people out of the water this morning and raised the alarm. Coast guard, police boats and two helicopters are now in the area. Those rescued are believed to be migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia.
The Mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, has described the sinking as "an immense tragedy" and said a young child and pregnant woman were among the dead. She added that the boat apparently caught fire after people on board set off flares so they would be seen by passing ships.
More than 140 people have been rescued but around 500 were on board, reports the BBC. Bodies have been covered and lined up at a port on Lampedusa, with officials warning that the death toll may rise.
The island is just 80 miles from Tunisia, making it closer to Africa than it is to the Italian mainland, and is a frequent destination for boats carrying smugglers and refugees. More than 200,000 migrants have reportedly passed through the island since 1999, with a surge in 2011 during the Arab Spring.
But it is a dangerous journey, with people often packed into rickety wooden boats exposed to the elements. According to CNN, the Italian Coast Guard has been involved in the rescue of more than 30,000 refugees around the island in recent years.
On land, the 6,000-strong native population of Lampedusa is outnumbered by thousands of migrants in improvised camps around the island.
Pope Francis visited Lampedusa in July and criticised what he described as "global indifference" to the island's refugee crisis. He denounced the traffickers who exploited migrants and took great risks with their lives. "We have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility," he said, and "have forgotten how to cry" for migrants lost at sea.
Today’s fatalities come just four days after 13 migrants drowned when their boat foundered off eastern Sicily. ·