Over 40 migrants die off coast of Italy as pregnant refugee sets herself on fire in Greek migrant camp

Giada ZampanoWed, 24 February 2021, 8:16 pm

Kara Tepe is now Lesbos' main migrant camp - ANTHI PAZIANOU/AFP via Getty Images
Kara Tepe is now Lesbos’ main migrant camp – ANTHI PAZIANOU/AFP via Getty Images

At least 41 people drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat capsized sailing from Libya to Italy last week, the UN’s refugee and migration agencies said on Wednesday calling for coordinated action by European countries to address the migration emergency.

It came as an eight-month-pregnant Afghan refugee attempted to set herself on fire in a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, in protest against squalid living conditions. She is due to appear in court on Thursday and may be charged with arson after setting her tent ablaze.

The boat of 120 people capsized two days after it left the Libyan coast on Feb.18. Its passengers included six women, one of whom was pregnant, and four children, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR said in a joint statement.

According to the survivors, the dinghy started to take on water about 15 hours after it set off. At least six people died after falling into the water, while two others tried to swim to a boat visible in the distance and drowned.

After about three hours, an rescue vessel approached the dinghy to attempt to help the stranded passengers but many more people lost their lives in the difficult operation, the IOM and UNHCR reported, without supplying details.

Only one body was recovered and those missing include three children and four women, one of whom left behind a newborn baby.

“Saving the lives of refugees and migrants in distress in the Mediterranean must once again become a priority for the European Union and the international community,” the agencies said.

Some 160 people are believed to have died in the Central Mediterranean since the start of 2021.

Tens of thousands of migrants travelling along the deadly route through Libya to the Central Mediterranean have fallen victim to brutality at the hands of traffickers and militias.

Of the more than 3,800 people who have reached Italy by sea so far this year, over 2,500 have departed from Libya. There, returnees are forced into arbitrary detention and risk becoming victim to abuse, violence, and major human rights violations, the agencies said.

The Afghan refugee in Greece, aged 26 and a mother of two, had been told her relocation to Germany had been approved last week, but that she was not allowed to leave the camp as she is weeks away from giving birth.

After repeated complaints against the decision, on Sunday the woman took her children out of her tent, walked inside and started a fire.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Migration told the Telegraph that she regretted her move and got out of the tent, but she suffered minor burn injuries. The fire was put out by the personnel of the camp helped by some of its residents.

A spokesperson for the UNHCR told The Telegraph that the situation for residents in Kara Tepe remains precarious and that works needed to upgrade facilities are still under way.

The camp was designated the main one in Lesbos after an arson attack burned down the notorious Moria camp in September 2020.

Refugees and asylum-seekers are suffering from bad weather conditions at this time of year, along with more long-term problems related to their living conditions, Covid-19 restrictions, and the indeterminate time they must wait on the island before being relocated.