Morocco : Suspicious sinking of migrant boat

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The Moroccan government should immediately investigate allegations that its naval forces sank a boat in the Mediterranean in which at least 28 migrants drowned, Human Rights Watch said today.

On April 28, 2008, a Moroccan naval patrol intercepted a nine-meter, inflatable Zodiac-type boat with 70 people on board, including children, apparently heading for the Spanish coast. The boat reportedly refused to heed an order from the patrol to return to the Moroccan coast.

According to survivors cited by the Spanish daily El País of May 7, a sailor then deliberately punctured their boat with a knife, causing it to deflate. “We begged them to look at our babies and children,” one survivor told El País. “The soldier stabbed the boat and just watched with his arms crossed.”

Between 28 and 33 passengers, including four children, drowned before another Moroccan naval patrol boat came and rescued the remaining 40 passengers and transported them to the coastal town of al-Hoceima, survivors said. Morocco denies that its navy deliberately sunk the migrant boat.

“The Moroccan authorities need to investigate properly to find out what really happened,” said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. “If Moroccan sailors caused the boat to sink and allowed its passengers to drown, they should be prosecuted.”

An estimated 100,000 migrants cross the Mediterranean annually by boat to reach Europe and an estimated 10,000 have died at sea over the past decade.

“Migrant deaths from overcrowding in unseaworthy boats are tragically common, but deliberate sinking would be a grave crime,” said Frelick. “Any investigation worthy of the name should incl ude the testimony of all available eyewitnesses, including survivors.”

Human Rights Watch

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