Italian police arrested 15 Muslim migrants on Thursday suspected of throwing about a dozen Christians from a boat in the Mediterranean as it headed to Italy.
Police in the Sicilian capital Palermo said they had arrested the men, from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal after survivors reported they had thrown 12 people from Nigeria and Ghana to their deaths and threatened other Christians.
The 15 were arrested on charges of multiple homicide motivated by religious hatred.
“The motive for the resentment was traced to their faiths,” police said. “Twelve people are said to have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean, all of them Nigerian and Ghanaian.”
The survivors’ account underscores the rising chaos in the Mediterranean, which thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and deprivation in Africa, try to cross in rickety boats in the hope of a better life in Europe.
In a separate incident the same day, another 41 migrants were feared drowned after their boat sank en route to Italy, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.
Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, according to the IOM, fewer than arrived in the first four months of last year, but the number of deaths has risen almost nine-fold.
Traffickers take advantage of a breakdown of order in Libya to charge some $1,000 for every migrant to whom they give a passage. Some also turn violent, threatening coast guards with machine guns to avoid having their boats confiscated.
The murder suspects were among almost 100 migrants brought to Palermo on Wednesday. The arrests were made on the basis of testimony from about 10 survivors, who said they had left Libya in a rubber boat on Tuesday, police said.
Italy phased out a dedicated maritime search and rescue operation called “Mare Nostrum” or “Our Sea” late last year, making way for a European Union border control mission.
The EU operation, called Triton, has been criticised by humanitarian groups and Italian authorities as it has a much smaller budget and a narrower remit than Mare Nostrum.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-04-17