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Muslim Migrants Threw Christians Overboard, Italian Police Say

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Muslim Migrants Threw Christians Overboard, Italian Police Say

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Muslim Migrants Threw Christians Overboard, Italian Police Say

Muslim Migrants Threw Christians Overboard, Italian Police Say

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Tens of thousands of people are trying to flee Africa by boarding rickety and often overcrowded boats for the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Many ships capsize or are abandoned by smugglers, and hundreds have already died en route. More than 10,000 people were rescued this week alone.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We've been reporting this week on the latest migrant tragedies in the Mediterranean. Here's what we know. Hundreds are feared dead this week after boats capsized off the coast of Libya. At the same time, more than 10,000 people have been rescued this week alone. And now a grisly story. Italian police say Muslim migrants on a different boat threw 12 Christians off of it. They were also trying to make it to Europe from Libya.

For more on all of this, we turn to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. And Ofeibea, first, what can you tell us about this case that Italian police describe as homicide aggravated by religious hatred?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Robert, what we're hearing is that Ghanaian and Nigerian survivors boarded a rubber boat in Libya and that there was some sort of dispute apparently between Christians and Muslims. And we're being told that Muslim would-be migrants from Ivory Coast, Senegal and Mali allegedly tossed these 12 Christians from Nigeria and Ghana overboard.

SIEGEL: Now these migrants you're describing are from Africa, as are many trying to cross the Mediterranean, but not all. Who are these migrants we speak of?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. As we've heard there are Nigerians and Ghanaians. There are also Africans from Eritrea, would be migrants from Iraq and Syria - people who are facing conflict, repression and persecution, but also many others who are fleeing poverty, looking for a better life in Europe.

SIEGEL: How much does it cost for someone who's trying to escape poverty to make this journey by land and then sea to Europe?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're talking thousands of dollars. But put it another way, Robert. For example, a family in Niger - for them, their wealth is cattle, so they sell their cattle to be able to send someone to Europe. Or in Senegal, somebody who may be running a small business - they sell it so that they can send one of the family members to Europe in search of a better life, and we're not talking about small families - extended families.

SIEGEL: Tell us about what happens to these people once they do get on a boat in the Mediterranean.

QUIST-ARCTON: These would-be migrants get onto totally unseaworthy vessels, and the smugglers taking them to Europe usually put a satellite phone on the vessel, and then when they're getting close to land, they abandon these ships that are carrying women, children, sometimes unaccompanied children. They leave them to their fate, and it's at this point that sometimes these vessels capsize and so many people die. So it is a perilous journey, but so many people are still prepared to take the risk.

SIEGEL: Ofeibea, when there was an upsurge in crossings of the border from Mexico of unaccompanied minors from Central America last year, one response was to have public information campaigns down in Central America telling people how hazardous this was - how people would be returned home. Say in Senegal, where you're based, is there much discussion of this? Is there public talk discouraging from people taking risks with their lives on these ships?

QUIST-ARCTON: Robert, Senegalese authorities are saying, no, stay home. We will try to find you jobs. Don't get onto these ships that nobody has been able to vouch for. You may die. And how can you help your families if you die?

But just the other day on the streets of Dakar, a young man who sells secondhand shoes on the street said to me, can't you help me get there? He's a father of two children. He still thinks he will have a better life in Europe, the El Dorado, as they see it - the promise land, even though so many people have told them that they may die on the high seas.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us from Accra, Ghana, today. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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