The United Nations has confirmed a number of people onboard the migrant boat that sank off the southern coast of Italy on Sunday were from Afghanistan.
According to a UN statement, the boat had left Turkey “with many passengers coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed there were about 80 survivors. However, Italian authorities have said as many as 200 migrants could have been crammed on the boat when it crashed onto rocks on Sunday while trying to land.
Italian authorities have confirmed 62 people, including children, are dead. They said they fear as many as 100 people died in the boat accident. However, the identities and nationalities of the dead have not yet been released.
“All of the survivors are adults,″ Red Cross volunteer Ignazio Mangione said. ”Unfortunately, all the children are among the missing or were found dead on the beach.”
Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said it was offering psychological assistance to survivors, who included a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan. MSF said the boy’s sister, 28, made it to the beach but then died. The group said the boy “hasn’t found the courage to tell his parents.”
Another survivor was a 12-year-old boy from Afghanistan who lost his entire family, including four siblings.
BBC reported that a 43-year-old man from Afghanistan survived with his 14-year-old son, but his wife and his three other children, who were 13, nine, and five did not make it. Another Afghan woman in tears would not move from the beach after losing her husband.
According to Italian state TV, survivors said the boat set out five days ago from Turkey and that it had been carrying as many as 200 people, including children and babies.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees put the number on board at about 170. However, in a bid to establish how many passengers had set out on the voyage, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Monday said some 200 people had been crowded into the 20-meter boat.
Throughout Monday, search and rescue operations continued which involved a helicopter and police aircraft, as well as vessels from Italian state firefighter squads, the Coast Guard and border police. Local fishermen also joined in the search, Italian media reported.
Residents along the coast have meanwhile reported that some bodies washed up on beaches near their towns.
Speaking at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Secretary General António Guterres called on countries to do more to help refugees and migrants, and for safer travel routes and strengthened rescue operations.
Italy’s president Meloni meanwhile expressed “deep sorrow” and blamed the deaths on traffickers. “It is inhumane to exchange the lives of men, women and children for the price of the ‘ticket’ they paid in the false perspective of a safe journey,” she said.
“The government is committed to preventing departures, and with them the unfolding of these tragedies, and will continue to do so.”
According to monitoring groups, more than 20,000 people have died or gone missing at sea in the central Mediterranean since 2014.