Muslims, Christians in migrant-boat battle, 12 dead

Raft found with just 4 survivors of 45 migrants in separate case

(ANSA) - Rome, April 16 - Terrified migrants reported that 12 people were killed in a fight between Christians and Muslims on a boat fleeing from Libya as the European Commission admitted Thursday that the migrant situation in the Mediterranean was deteriorating. Police in Sicily arrested 15 people on suspicion of multiple murder aggravated by religious hatred based on information collected from others on the overcrowded migrant boat.
    It is believed that a group of Muslim migrants from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal had attacked a small number of Christians from Nigeria and Ghana, throwing a dozen people overboard.
    Some of the Christians who survived were protected by other migrants on board who police said formed a kind of "human chain".
    Meanwhile, at least 40 migrants were reported drowned with just four survivors found and brought Thursday morning to the port of Trapani by Navy vessel.
    The survivors said their group of about 45 people had left Tripoli in North Libya on an inflatable raft.
    In recent days, some 10,000 migrants have been rescued from the sea, mostly between Libya and Italy. It is estimated about 500 people have drowned so far this year in the dangerous sea crossing. War-torn Libya is a frequent embarcation point for migrants fleeing violence in parts of Africa as well as the Middle East.
    Almost all are headed for different parts of Europe but Italy is the closest landing point. The EC admitted Thursday that the crisis is deteriorating quickly. "The situation in the Mediterranean is serious and it will get worse in the coming weeks and months," said European Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud. Italy, which has seen a sharp increase this year in the already large flow of migrants heading to its coast, has repeatedly complained it is not getting enough help from Europe.
    Authorities in Italy are braced for arrivals to accelerate even more as weather and sea conditions have been improving with the arrival of spring.
    "We have to be frank," added Bertaud. "The commission cannot do everything on its own. We don't have the magic wand because we don't have the funds or political support (to do more)".
    In 2014, a record 170,000 people fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East made the perilous crossing to Italy as a stepping stone to Europe.
    Italy has called on the EU to do more to strengthen Operation Triton, a project of the European Union's Frontex border security agency.
    In November, it replaced Italy's much larger but more expensive Mare Nostrum search and rescue program initiated after a series of migrant deaths in October 2013.
   

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