Suspected human traffickers arrested in Italy

Three people were arrested on Monday night, believed to be human traffickers from the boat which ran aground off the coast of the southern Italian island of Sicily, leading to the deaths of 11 African immigrants. The three are being held in custody accused of multiple murder and violation of Italy's immigration laws.

The boat - which was packed with some 160 Eritrean, Egyptian, Sudanese and Palestinian immigrants, some of whom paid as much as two thousand dollars to make the journey - was around a kilometre from the shore at Gela when it ran aground and the Egyptian captain is reported to have told the passengers to jump overboard or be taken back to Libya.

Eleven drowned after jumping off, thinking they could swim to shore. They were all said to be aged between 17 and 22. The others remained on board the trawler or got into the rubber dinghy lifeboat. The crew of six Libyans and Egyptians were arrested and also face murder and human trafficking charges.

Meanwhile, on Monday night another 315 illegal immigrants were spotted by a police helicopter, some 56 kilometres from the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. They were escorted to shore by police and coastguards and later transferred to the holding centre on the island, which is midway between Italy and Africa.

On Monday morning another boat landed at Pozzallo on the coast of Sicily, carrying another 245 immigrants, including women and children.

Thousands travel to Italy's southern coast and islands every year, hoping to start a new life. The holding centre on Lampedusa is often well over its 200 capacity, and the huge influx of immigrants has prompted Italy to adopt a harsh and heavily-criticised policy of shipping new arrivals straight back, often without giving them the chance to apply for political asylum, the AKI reports.

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