Twelve African Christians attempting to reach Europe by boat were allegedly thrown overboard because of “religious hate”.
The 12, from Ghana and Nigeria, are all feared dead.
Police arrested 15 Muslim migrants, from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea, on suspicion of murder after the boat reached the Italian shore.
“Eyewitnesses told police how the altercation resulted in Christians being thrown overboard, and that some of the survivors had formed human chains to avoid a similar fate,” reports the BBC.
An Italian who works with migrants said Africans are often treated as “inferior” by fellow migrants, as traffickers know they can pay less than, eg. Syrians, and Africans do not get to pay for lifejackets on-board.
Many other vessels of would-be migrants do not reach Europe. (More than 500 from Africa and the Middle East are known to have died since the start of 2015.)
The trend is not a new one. In 2013, World Watch Monitor published a report after another boat sinking in which more than 200 migrants drowned – 90 per cent of whom were thought to be Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia who were fleeing persecution or conflict at home.
“Scratch beneath the surface and for many of the migrants, their stories are not only of wanting a better life. Often they will be of fleeing persecution or conflict at home, and paying their life savings to smugglers who promise their passage to the safety of European shores,” World Watch Monitor reported at the time.