Witnesses say as many as 500 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea when human traffickers intentionally sunk their boat, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.
The survivors — both Palestinian men from Gaza who were rescued separately after days in the water clinging to flotation aids — said they had packed into a boat in Egypt’s port of Damietta in Egypt and left on September 6. They estimated at least 400 men and women, in addition to as many as 100 children, were on board.
Two survivors interviewed by the IOM and Italian police in Sicily said the traffickers became enraged after the migrants — who had already switched to small boats three times during their four days at sea — refused to move to a smaller vessel. The migrants said they’d rather go back to Egypt than continue on in an even smaller vessel that they believed was not seaworthy.
The Palestinians’ account was corroborated by several other survivors who were interviewed on the Greek island of Crete, the IOM said.
They said the smugglers, who they said were Palestinians and Egyptians, had begun yelling and throwing sticks at the migrants after they refused to leave the boat before then ramming the vessel. Some migrants managed to jump into the smaller boat, while one passenger “killed himself in despair by hanging,” a survivor said.
“After they hit our boat, they waited to make sure that it had sunk completely before leaving. They were laughing,” he added.
500 Migrants Died in the Mediterranean Sea