Rescue workers carry the body of a migrant who drowned off
the coast of the Sicilian village of Sampieri.
At least 13 people on a migrant boat arriving in eastern
Sicily drowned, apparently after trying to get off their
stranded vessel while it was just a few metres from the shore,
Italian authorities say.
Television pictures showed the bodies, all of adult men,
wrapped in white sheets lying on the beach.
Davide Roccasalva, a lifeguard at the Sampieri beach near
Scicli in eastern Sicily, told the Corriere della Sera
website that he had helped an off-duty policemen pull some of
the struggling people out of the surf.
"We went in the water, some of them were getting out on their
own two feet but some of them had to get assistance and we
helped some of those in the water," he said, adding that many
were in serious distress.
"We managed to save two by cardiac massage but for many
others there was nothing we could do," he said.
The mayor of Scicli, Franco Susini said tourists on the beach
had raised the alarm but he said the migrants, most from
Eritrea, appeared to have been mistreated during the voyage.
"The people in these boats are treated like animals," he told
Police arrested two men, both suspected of being people
The incident was the latest in a long series in which
desperate migrants trying to reach southern Europe in
overcrowded boats have drowned.
Pope Francis highlighted the plight of migrants to Sicily
earlier this year when he visited Lampedusa, the tiny island
off the southern coast which has been the main entry point to
Europe for migrants from North Africa.
PROBLEM FOR EUROPE
Both Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister
Enrico Letta issued statements of condolence while
Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, herself born in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, said Europe had to take action.
"We are witnessing a human tragedy which affects all the
countries of Europe," she Kyenge said in a statement. "We
cannot underestimate this situation."
Thousands of migrants have arrived in packed boats in
southern Italy during the summer sailing season this year
with refugees from the civil war in Syria adding to the near
daily arrivals of boats from North Africa.
According to a report from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees earlier this month, around 22,000
migrants had arrived in southern Italy by boat so far in
2013, including almost 6,000 Eritreans and 4,600 Syrians.
Most arrive in Lampedusa but thousands of Syrian migrants
have also arrived in southeastern Sicily from Egypt.