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Migrant boat disaster: Survivor, 16, describes horror of journey across the Mediterranean

The boy said traffickers wanted to cram 1,200 people on the boat but had to stop at 850 because it was so full they 'couldn't even move'

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 23 April 2015 00:51 BST
Only 28 migrants survived the disaster
Only 28 migrants survived the disaster (EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO)

A 16-year-old boy who survived the migrant boat disaster that killed an estimated 800 people has spoken of his horrific ordeal.

Said, from Somalia, has arrived in Sicily with 27 other people who were the only passengers saved from the capsized vessel.

He told rescue workers from Save the Children that his parents wanted to get him to Norway, where they have relatives, and put him in the care of Sudanese human traffickers in summer last year.

After crossing the desert through Sudan, he was kidnapped by armed smugglers near the Libyan border and held prisoner for nine months until his parents paid the money his captors demanded.

Boys who survived the migrant boat disaster that killed 800 people on 19 April arriving at a rescue centre in Italy. (Sarah Tyler/Save the Children)

In his interview, paraphrased by a Save the Children translator, Said said there were many other children on the journey who were badly treated.

“Many died in front of him because they didn't have enough to eat and they became sick,” the account said.

Said reached Tripoli and at 11pm on Saturday, he was put in a rubber dinghy that took him and other migrants to the fated fishing boat, anchored out at sea.

“While getting onto the boat I heard the smugglers say that they were going to try to get 1,200 on to the boat and that's why they beat us to get us onto the boat,” Said said.

“But they stopped at 800 because it was full - we couldn't even move. There was no food or water, the people that were put below were locked underneath.”

The teenager described how at around 10pm on Sunday, the smugglers put out a distress call and as a rescue ship approached, everyone rushed to that side of the boat and it capsized.

Said, one of the few survivors fished out of the water, is still recovering from the ordeal but hopes to reach Norway eventually, without resorting to illegal traffickers.

Four teenage boys were among those saved, while around 100 children are believed to have died in what is believed to be the worst migrant boat disaster in history.

The captain of the vessel, 27-year-old Mohammed Ali Malek, has been charged with reckless homicide by Italian prosecutors who said he accidentally rammed the vessel into a cargo ship answering its distress call.

Mohammed Ali Malek has been charged with causing the deaths of hundreds of migrants who drowned after he steered the ship he was captaining into another vessel (AP)

The collision caused panic among the migrants crammed on board, who ran to one side of the former fishing boat and added to the instability that caused it to capsize.

More than 1,700 migrants have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in the past week alone and the flood of people carried by human traffickers continues unabated.

More than 550 people landed in Italy on Wednesday morning, arriving in Augusta and Lampedusa, and more are expected through the day.

Gemma Parkin, who is in Sicily with Save the Children, said: “Children arriving off the boats are exhausted and traumatised from the ordeal they have been through, not just at sea but also during their long and dangerous land journeys.

“But they also tell us they are grateful to be alive and in a safe place – they know they are the lucky ones.”

The charity has warned that 2,500 children could die on the sea crossing to Europe this year if current trends continue.

It is among the groups calling on European Union leaders meeting in Brussels tomorrow to agree to re-start rescue operations off the coast of Italy on the scale of Mare Nostrum, which was abandoned for a cheaper scheme.

Italy is asking for help to stop migrants getting to smugglers’ boats, possibly by setting up refugee camps in countries bordering Libya and targeting trafficking networks.

The International Organisation for Migration said the death toll for the year could top 30,000 - nearly 10 times the 2014 total of 3,279, which was also a record.

Additional reporting by agencies

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