'Migrants thrown overboard after religious argument' - Italian police

Suspects arrested in port of Palermo amid flood of people trying to reach Europe from Africa and Middle East in boats.

(File Photo) Migrants arrive in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo after being rescued off the coast of Lampedusa
(File Photo) Migrants arrive in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo after being rescued off the coast of Lampedusa

A dozen African migrants have died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers, Italian police say, and another 41 boat migrants are feared to have drowned in a separate incident.

Police in the Sicilian port of Palermo said on Thursday they had arrested 15 migrants suspected of attacking other passengers after a religious row on a boat headed for Italy, which is struggling to cope with a huge surge in illegal migrants arriving on its shores.

The 15 men were accused of "multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hatred," police said in a statement.

The police said those arrested were Muslims while those thrown overboard were Christians.

The 12 victims were all Nigerians and Ghanaians while the 15 suspects came from Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.

Distraught survivors, who set off from Libya on Tuesday before being rescued by an Italian vessel on Wednesday, told a "dreadful" story of "forcefully resisting attempts to drown them, forming a veritable human chain in some cases", police said.

In another incident, 41 migrants were missing, feared drowned after their dinghy sank en route to Italy, the International Organisation for Migration said, just days after 400 migrants were believed to have died in another shipwreck off the coast of Libya.

The four survivors of Thursday's shipwreck, who came from Nigeria, Ghana and Niger, said their boat sank after setting sail from Libya with 45 people on board.

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