Italian police have arrested five men on charges of human trafficking and murder, after a boat carrying 600 asylum seekers from Libya to southern Italy capsized, killing at least 25—hundreds more are presumed dead.
The five men being accused of running the operation were rescued by Irish ships along with 373 others, the Guardian reports.
Many of the asylum seekers were downstairs in the boat’s hull, because smugglers were charging less for those spots than to travel above deck, the International Business Times reports. A few hours into the notoriously dangerous crossing, which takes around 16 hours, the rickety boat began to take on water.
“On order of the smugglers, the migrants tried desperately to throw the water out,”a spokesperson for the Italian police said in a statement. “Failing to do so, they attempted to escape to save themselves but instead they were hit by the traffickers with sticks and knives and forced back into the hull. The traffickers sealed the hatch with the weight of the remaining migrants,” investigators said.
This comes at a time when many European countries are struggling to decide what to do about increases in migrants seeking asylum from dangerous, unstable conditions in places like Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan. The UNHCR has called on the world’s richest countries to take in more refugees, especially from war-torn Syria.
In April, another boat on the same route capsized and killed nearly all of the 900 asylum seekers on board. There were 3,279 recorded deaths in the Mediterranean last year. The International Organization for Migration expects that approximately 30,000 people will die in journeys like these in the region this year.
On the border between France and England, in the town of Calais, some 3000 asylum seekers are camped out, hoping to cross into England. But English authorities have cracked down on asylum seekers recently and in Germany, too, the debate is leaning toward an distinctly anti-refugee track.