About 240 migrants, mostly children and pregnant women from Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia, and Guinea were among those who reported drowned off the coast of Libya Wednesday while ttempting to reach Italy, according to the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF).
A young Liberian woman, one of 29 survivors brought to the island of Lampedusa earlier today, lost her two-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and 21-year-old brother – all of whom drowned when their boat capsized. UNICEF’s Helena Rodriguez, a gynaecologist and cultural mediator on Lampedusa, who serve as interpreters of cultural needs and practices, is working with Italian health workers to treat the 31-year-old woman for acute pneumonia and shock.
“The tragedy has left this young woman in a state of deep shock after she saw her children and her young brother drown in front of her,” said Rodriguez. “Even though she had paid smugglers $2,400 for her family to make the crossing from Libya to Italy, when she and others saw the completely unseaworthy boat, they refused to get in because they were afraid. But the smugglers shot at them and forced them to go. This is why so many people drowned just 12 km from the Libyan shore,” Rodriguez was quoted as saying.
Rodriguez, who was at the pier to assist survivors in the early hours of Thursday morning, said those rescued from the sea were in difficult physical and psychological condition upon arrival – with some in a coma and others suffering from severe burns due to exposure to engine fuel. “It is an awful situation here,” she said.
Two other women who were saved by the same Norwegian rescue vessel also lost their children at sea. 2016 is set to be the deadliest year on record for the Mediterranean with more than 4,200 refugees and migrants having died attempting the dangerous journey across the sea. Nearly 160,000 have arrived to Italy by sea so far this year.