MILAN -- The bodies of eight migrants have been recovered by Italy's coast guard during an operation overnight that also rescued 42 survivors in the central Mediterranean off the island of Lampedusa, authorities said Friday.
Another two people, a newborn and a man, fell into the sea during the crossing and were presumed dead, the coast guard said in a statement, citing survivor accounts.
Survivors reported that the infant died of exposure and that the distraught mother threw the newborn into the sea, according to the news agency ANSA. The man then jumped in attempting to retrieve the body, disappearing in the waves.
Video of the rescue shows the survivors packed in a small open fishing boat, which was adrift with a nonfunctioning motor. Rescuers warned them to sit down and not move before throwing a line to pull them to safety.
All on board were soaking wet, cold and dehydrated, and the deceased were believed to have perished from hypothermia, ANSA reported.
Survivors said they had departed the Tunisian port of Sfax before dawn on Saturday, ANSA said. They were among some 200 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan African nations, who arrived at Lampedusa on three boats overnight.
Lampedusa's mayor, Filippo Mannino, appealed to Premier Giorgia Meloni, asking that “the government not leave us alone to manage this enormous tragedy. Help us. We are no longer able to manage.”
Charity boats operating in the deadly central Mediterranean have complained that a new Italian decree forcing them to port after each rescue endangers the lives of migrants departing from North Africa by leaving the search and rescue area uncovered. That is compounded by a new practice of assigning ports in northern Italy, requiring days of navigation to reach.
The Council of Europe this week urged the Italian government to consider withdrawing the decree, saying it could hamper search and rescue operations by nongovernmental agencies, “depriving people in distress of life-saving assistance from NGOs on the deadliest migration route in the Mediterranean.”
In a letter to Italy's interior minister, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, also repeated a call for Italy to suspend its cooperation with the Libyan government on interceptions at sea, because of the likelihood that migrants returned to Libya face torture, rape, slavery, exploitation and detention.
The latest call comes after Italy agreed over the weekend to supply Libya with five new coast guard boats to help stem the movement of migrants to Europe. The deal was announced during a visit by Meloni that secured an $8 billion gas deal.
The central Mediterranean Sea is a perilous crossing that has claimed 20,285 lives since the U.N. migration office began tracking figures in 2014, compared with 5,000 in the eastern and western Mediterranean combined. Many of the victims are missing at sea and presumed dead, based on survivor accounts.
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