200 Palestinians in Malta shipwreck: report

A Palestinian group in Syria said Oct. 13 that over 200 Palestinians were aboard a boat which capsized off Malta's coast two days earlier. The Action Group for Palestinians in Syria said that at least 200 Palestinian refugees fleeing conflict in the country were aboard the boat, which left the Libyan port of Zwara on Oct. 10. Some 70 Palestinian refugees survived the shipwreck and are now in Malta, with the rest unaccounted for, the action group said. The boat was carrying up to 400 migrants, mostly Syrians. At least 33 people perished after the boat sank, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead, prompting Malta to warn that the Mediterranean is becoming "a cemetery."

Some of the 206 known survivors of the shipwreck said Libyan militiamen shot wildly at them, leaving several people dead and causing the vessel to take on water and sink. Citing survivors' accounts, the UN refugee agency spoke of several injured passengers, saying shots were fired "perhaps by militiamen who shot to kill."

Molhake al-Roarsan, 22, interviewed by Italy's La Stampa daily, said three people had bullet wounds in the arms and legs. He said he thought the attacks were related to a dispute between different groups of human traffickers. "There was a furious fight, screaming on the radio and on the phone with someone who demanded that we return to land, but the captain did not stop."

Twin tragedies in the Mediterranean just days apart have prompted the European Union to call for sea patrols to cope with the flood of migrants knocking on its doors. Italy has appealed to fellow EU states for help in managing the crisis and wants migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels later this month. According to UNHCR estimates, some 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year.

Some 250,000 Palestinian refugees have been forced to leave their refugee camps in Syria due to violence in the country. A staggering 6.2 million Syrians have been torn from their homes—a number without parallel in any other country and representing nearly a third of Syria's pre-war population of 20.8 million. In September 2012, at least 61 migrants, including Palestinians and Syrians, more than half of them children, died after their overcrowded boat sank just tens of meters off Turkey's western Aegean coast.

From Ma'an News Agency, Oct. 13.

  1. Migrants tortured, raped in Libya detention center
    Italian police have arrested Somali man Mouhamud Elmi Muhidin in Lampedusa, accused of leading a human-trafficking ring that organized the overcrowded ship that sank off the island Oct. 3, killing more than 365. According to survivor testimony, Muhidin and the overseers of a Libyan detention center where migrants had been held repeatedly tortured and raped them. According to migrants’ testimony, the 20 women in the group were repeatedly raped and offered to Libyan visitors “as if they were a cup of tea.” (Al Jazeera, BBC News, Nov. 8)

    Meanwhile, a group of Syrian refugees at a detention center on Lampedusa have gone on hunger strike, saying they are being held there indefinitely and denied processing on the basis of their naitonality. (EuroNews, Nov. 8)