People stand on the shore as they wait for the recovery of bodies during a search operation after a boat carrying refugees capsized in the Mediterranean, along the shore in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Egyptian authorities have arrested at least four people in connection with the deaths of a group of refugees whose boat recently capsized in the Mediterranean.
The four people are members of the boat’s crew and have been remanded into police custody for four days pending further investigation. They face charges of manslaughter and human trafficking.
Authorities have also issued arrest warrants for five more people in connection with the deadly boat incident.
On Wednesday, a boat transporting African asylum seekers sank near the Egyptian coast. More than 40 people died in the incident. Over 150 people have been rescued so far.
Survivors said up to 450 refugees had been aboard the fishing boat when it sank about 12 kilometers off the coast of the Egyptian Mediterranean port city Rosetta.
Search operations are said to be focusing on the boat’s cold storage room, where witnesses said about 100 people sought refuge as the vessel flipped over.
“The death toll is going to rise,” a medical source told AFP, adding, “On the boat there is a hold used to store fish. It hasn’t been opened and there must be a lot of people inside.”
Hassan Suleiman, a relative of one of the people on board the boat, accused authorities of being slow to rescue the refugees.
Suleiman told the Associated Press that fishing boats had come first, plucking bodies from the water and rescuing survivors.
He also claimed that traffickers in the area were known to police by name and that some policemen were paid by them to look the other way. “This is shameful. This is shameful for our children and our young people that go to them.”
Egyptian rescue workers are seen on a boat carrying the bodies of refugees during a search operation after a vessel transporting asylum seekers capsized in the Mediterranean, September 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Smugglers in the region reportedly charge refugees about 35,000 pounds, nearly $4,000, each for the perilous journey to Europe.
Thousands of refugees, mostly feeling war and poverty, have tried to cross the Mediterranean over the past couple of years in hope of a better life in Europe.
The United Nations said in early June that over 10,000 people had lost their lives in the hazardous journeys since 2014.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement in early September that 2016 had been the deadliest year to date for refugees who venture the perilous North Africa-Italy route to reach Europe.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. The conflicts they are fleeing are usually instigated by the very European and non-European countries they seek to finally settle in.