7 Bangladeshis die of cold on way to Italy crossing Mediterranean

In yet another migrant boat tragedy, seven Bangladeshis have died due to cold weather while attempting to reach Italy by braving the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya.

Toto Martello, the mayor of Italy’s Lampedusa island, confirmed the deaths to AFP on Tuesday, saying that they were in a vessel carrying 280 people, mainly from Bangladesh and Egypt. However, it could not be immediately verified how many of the survivors were Bangladeshis.

Italy, a major route into Europe for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants, has seen an increase in migrant boats in recent months.

As of January 24, 1,751 migrants have disembarked in Italy’s ports so far this year, according to government data.

Hundreds of people have made the often-deadly journey this year, despite winter weather that once deterred migrants from attempting the crossing, and numbers are expected to rise further.

“Three people died during the crossing, another four suffering severe hypothermia died after they were intercepted by the coast guard and were being transferred to the island,” Martello said.

The seven dead were Bangladeshis, according to Italian media reports.

The Mediterranean Hope migration project said on Twitter that the 280 migrants hailed originally from Bangladesh, Egypt, Mali and Sudan, and “almost all of them were in a severe state of hypothermia.”

“The shocking thing is there continuing to be a deafening silence from the Italian government and Europe, even in the face of deaths,” Martello said.

Hypothermia occurs when the human body loses more heat than it can generate and drops below 35°C.

After undergoing coronavirus tests, the survivors were split between the health centre and the heavily overcrowded reception centre on the tiny island, which lies closer to Africa than Italy.

The centre, which can hold 250 migrants, currently houses over 600 people.

Just over 100 were to be transferred on Tuesday to a quarantine ship moored off Cala Pisana, one of the island’s tourist spots.

While some 34,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2020, that figure almost doubled to 64,500 people in 2021.

“It’s become a continuous phenomenon. There’s no difference any more between summer and winter, when boats didn’t use to arrive,” Martello said.

“This year, if the start is anything to go by, we’re going to double the number for 2021.”

Despite freezing temperatures and rough seas, over 1,750 people have arrived in Italy so far this month, compared to 379 in the same period last year.

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