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Drowned migrants off Sicily coast 'were Egyptian'

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The six migrants who drowned off the coast of Sicily on Saturday were Egyptian, Italian media said. Their boat, which hit a sandbar after being abandoned by a larger vessel, was carrying around 100 people.


The six migrants who drowned off a tourist beach in Sicily were Egyptians whose boat was abandoned at sea by a larger vessel, Italian police said on Sunday.

The six victims who jumped from a trawler thinking they had arrived onshore were identified as being between 17 and 27 years of age.

The 27-year-old was trying for a fifth time to get into Italy, investigators said.

A fishing trawler illegally transporting some 100 migrants hit a sandbank about 15 metres (50 feet) from the shore at dawn on Saturday, close to a diving centre that some of the migrants managed to reach by swimming.

Others were rescued by the Italian coastguard, but those who drowned could not swim and jumped into the water believing they had arrived at their final destination.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, on a visit to Azerbaijan, expressed his "deep sorrow" about the deaths and called for a "new approach" in Europe to the migrant phenomenon.

He said that the Greek and Italian presidencies of the EU in 2014 would call for a "fresh approach".

"Italy is a welcoming country", the premier said at a press conference, but "there has to be a long-term European strategy."

Pope Francis, who last month visited the migrant-flooded island of Lampedusa on his first trip outside Rome, expressed his "great concern" following the tragedy in Sicily, said his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

While on Lampedusa, where thousands of African migrants have arrived since the beginning of the year, the pope criticised the world's "indifference" to their plight.

Investigators believe that the fishing boat was transporting more than 100 Egyptians and Syrians, 94 of whom were accounted for Sunday. Three smugglers escaped by jumping into the sea.

According to "reliable" evidence gathered by the police and investigators, the migrants had been travelling for seven days and had set off from the north of Egypt, probably in a large vessel before transferring to a smaller trawler.

This old wooden boat carrying the migrants was towed by the "mother ship" then abandoned some 36 hours before it was found off the coast of Catania, eastern Sicily, according to police.

The refugees were hungry and tired but did not bear the signs of a long sea voyage. A seven-month-old baby who was briefly hospitalised for dehydration was doing well, police found.

Two Egyptians aged 16 and 17 were questioned by police, believed to have been responsible for distributing food onboard the vessel, according to prosecutors.

Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino told local radio Sunday there was "no miracle solution" to the influx of immigrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken Middle Eastern and African countries, and said Italy was "not the dream of these immigrants".

The southern European country was instead "a country of transit," she added, emphasising the difficulty of preventing migrants from embarking on these journeys.

The prosecutor of Catania, Giovanni Salvi, opened an investigation into incitement to illegal immigration and multiple homicide on Saturday.

To get unnoticed to a city the size of Catania, "they were probably transferred at night from a larger vessel or they would have been spotted earlier," he told the Catholic newspaper L'Avvenire.

This implied the existence of an "organised network," including possible links with the Sicilian Mafia, he said.

Another group of about 80 migrants, mostly Syrian families, were rescued overnight Wednesday off the coast of Calabria on the Italian mainland.


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