2 dead, 30 missing near Lampedusa after capsizing of migrant boats

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At least two people died and more than 30 went missing near the Italian island of Lampedusa after two ships carrying asylum seekers capsized in rough seas, a police official said Sunday.

At least 57 people were saved after the ships went down amid high waves around 43 km southwest of Lampedusa between late Saturday and early Sunday local time.

According to local media, the ships departed from Tunisia. The bodies of an 18-month-old child and a woman were recovered.

“These are tragic events that should have never happened,” said Emanuele Ricifari, the official in charge of public safety in Agrigento, Sicily. “The death toll will rise … whoever forced these people to leave shore under these conditions is a lunatic.”

Ricifari told Xinhua that the rough seas damaging the two vessels were also challenging the authorities’ search efforts. As the difficult weather is expected to continue over the next several days, it was unlikely to find more survivors, he said.

Separate from the two shipwrecks, 34 migrants who had been stranded for 36 hours on a steep cliffside in Lampedusa were rescued on Sunday. A ship carrying those migrants crashed into rocks just off the shore between Friday night and Saturday morning, so the migrants were forced onto the cliffs to avoid drowning.

After Air Force and firefighter brigades airlifted them to safety via helicopter on Sunday, three of them were taken to a hospital for treatment. Local media reported that none of them were seriously injured.

Media reports said that as of Sunday, more than 2,400 people were crammed into a migrant shelter in Lampedusa that is designed to house only 400. Bad weather has made many migrants’ transfers to the Italian mainland impossible.

According to Italy’s Ministry of Interior, nearly 92,000 refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and beyond had landed on Italian shores so far this year, more than doubling the nearly 43,000 refugees landing in the country during the same period last year and three times the figure of 2021.

Historically, July and August are the most common months for migrant arrivals via the central Mediterranean route.

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