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At least 41 migrants feared dead in Mediterranean

Spain arrests human traffickers after migrant deaths

By AFP - Feb 24,2021 - Last updated at Feb 24,2021

ROME/MADRID — At least 41 migrants are feared dead following a weekend shipwreck on the Mediterranean Sea route from Libya to Italy, two United Nations agencies said Wednesday.

They were among the 120 passengers of a dinghy that left Libya on February 18, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

The dinghy started taking in water after about 15 hours at sea, and eight people died before a merchant vessel came to help, a joint statement by the groups said.

"Many [more] people lost their lives at sea" during a "difficult and delicate [rescue] operation", during which only one body was recovered, the statement added.

Three children and four women, including the mother of a baby brought ashore to Italy's Lampedusa island, are among the missing.

UNHCR and IOM said they heard "detailed testimonies" of the shipwreck from 77 survivors who were taken to the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle.

The central Mediterranean migration route is known as one of the world's deadliest.

The UN agencies said about 160 migrants and refugees have died so far this year trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Meanwhile, Spanish police said Wednesday they have arrested 14 suspected human traffickers who transported over 200 migrants to the Canary Islands, including three who died during the crossing, one aged just nine.

The 13 men and one woman were “identified by the migrants as the organisers of the crossing and the people charged with navigating” the boats that were used, police said in a statement.

The suspects, aged between 19 and 45, are nationals of Morocco, Mali, Gambia, Mauritania and Guinea, a police spokesman said.

They allegedly transported 237 people, including 26 minors, to the Canaries from Africa in December and January “without any safety measures, without safety jackets, food or water”, the statement said.

Due to the “squalid conditions” of the crossings, three people died, including a nine-year-old boy whose body was thrown overboard into the Atlantic Ocean, it added.

The boy’s mother tried to kill herself by throwing herself into the ocean and was taken to a hospital in the Canaries “in a state of shock” after the migrants were rescued by Spain’s coast guard.

The suspects are believed to have charged each migrant between 2,000 and 2,500 euros ($1,650-$2,060) per trip on their boats.

All 14 are accused of the crime of favouring illegal immigration.

The six suspects who were involved in the crossings where three migrants died are also accused of involuntary manslaughter.

Three of the suspects also face charges of membership in an organised crime group.

A total of 23,023 migrants landed on the Canary Islands last year after making the dangerous Atlantic crossing from north Africa, a figure eight times higher than the 2,687 who arrived in 2019, according to the interior ministry.

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