Special to WorldTribune.com
Two men who survived when an overcrowded boat sank in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy described the tragic events that led to the deaths of as many as 500 people.
Muaz Mahmud Aymo, a 25-year-old Ethiopian, and Mowlid Isman, a 28-year-old Somali, said they had been on a boat of about 200 people heading to Italy after leaving the Libyan port city of Tobruk. They said smugglers forced them, while still at sea, onto a larger boat, which already had about 300 people on board. The larger boat capsized and sank, the men said.
Aymo said he lost his 2-year-old child and 20-year-old wife when the boat sank in Mediterranean, while Isman said his sister and sister’s baby also died.
There were 41 survivors of the incident, including 37 men, 3 women and a 3-year-old child who were rescued by a merchant ship and taken to Kalamata, in the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece, on April 16, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a press release.
Those rescued include 23 Somalis, 11 Ethiopians, 6 Egyptians and a Sudanese.
So far this year, 179,552 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and Aegean. At least 761 have died or gone missing attempting the journey, UNHCR said.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that efforts to stem the tide of migrants to Europe are working.
Speaking at a news conference with Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Stoltenberg said the collective effort is “making a difference” and that the number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea is “going significantly down.”
Under an EU-Turkey deal signed last month, migrants arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast from March 20 onwards face deportation to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.
Stoltenberg said Turkey, based on information that NATO provides, is “taking action to help break the business model of traffickers,” but, he warned, the fight against trafficking requires “flexibility” as smugglers can “shift their routes rapidly.”
Turkey has taken in 2.7 million Syrian refugees.