Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

Ali Raza, 24, from Pakistan, shows his phone in Crotone, southern Italy, with a picture of his 29-year-old sister Shahida Raza, 29, captain of the Pakistani hockey national team, who was killed when a migrant boat capsized in the early morning of Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, at a short distance from the shore in Steccato di Cutro, in the Italian southern tip, killing at least 94 people. (AP)
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Updated 26 February 2024

Survivors, families of 94 migrants who died in shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

  • On Feb. 26, 2023, wooden boat carrying about 200 migrants sank a few meters off the coast of southern Calabria
  • Many of the dead, and survivors fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan in hoping to join family members in Italy, Europe

CROTONE, Italy: Survivors and family members of victims of a tragic shipwreck a year ago that killed 94 migrants, including 35 minors, just a few meters off Italy’s southern coast, returned for three days of commemorations ending Monday, calling for truth and justice.

A torchlight vigil, a photo exhibition and a protest march were among events at the nearby town of Crotone organized by a group of activists named Network Feb. 26 after the date of the tragedy. Most of the dead hailed from countries in the Middle East or South Asia.

“One year after the carnage, their right to the truth, to justice and to be reunited with their families has not been guaranteed yet,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

On Feb. 26 last year, a wooden boat departed from Turkiye carrying about 200 migrants and sank just a few meters (yards) off the coast of southern Calabria while trying to land on the seaside resort beach of Steccato di Cutro.

Network Feb. 26 includes over 400 associations that have repeatedly asked the Italian government to seek the truth about one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

The group has denounced repeated policy failures and alleged violations of human rights by Italian and EU authorities, seen as the main cause behind the long string of deaths of migrants who face risky trips to reach European coasts in their search for a better life.

Activists have also complained that some of the relatives and survivors were denied the right to return to Crotone for the anniversary of the shipwreck, due to difficulties in obtaining proper documents.

“When we met (Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni ) in Rome after the tragedy, (she) promised that her staff would (work) to reunite us and our families, but that has never happened,” said Haroon Mohammadi, 24, a survivor from Herat, Afghanistan, who lost some of his friends in the shipwreck.

Mohammadi now lives in Hamburg, Germany, where he has obtained a one-year residence permit, and hopes to continue to study economics at a university there.

“It’s very difficult for me to be back here, but I came to honor friends and relatives we’ve lost. … We became like a family following that day,” he told The Associated Press.

Many of the dead and survivors had fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, hoping to join family members in Italy and other Western European countries.

After the shipwreck, the right-wing government of Meloni approved a decree establishing a new crime — people smuggling that causes the death of migrants — punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and pledged to further toughen its battle against illegal immigration.

On Sunday, hundreds of people, including a group of about 50 survivors and relatives of the victims, marched in Crotone despite heavy rain with a banner asking to “stop deaths at sea.” Demonstrators also stopped to pay homage in front of PalaMilone, a sports complex that hosted the victims’ caskets.

On Saturday, Crotone’s Pitagora Museum inaugurated a photo exhibit titled “Dreams Cross the Sea,” featuring 94 photographs, one for each of the victims.


In the early hours of Feb. 26, the boat named Summer Love sank just a few meters (yards) from the coast of the southern Calabria region, while trying to land on the nearby beach. Authorities say the shipwreck resulted in the deaths of at least 94 of the 200 on board. Eighty passengers survived and about 10 were considered missing. Dozens of young children were onboard and almost none survived.

The shocking accident raised several questions over how EU border agency Frontex and the Italian coast guard responded to it.

Six days after the tragedy, Meloni told journalists that “no emergency communication from Frontex reached Italian authorities,” who she said were not warned that the vessel was in danger of sinking.

However, a Frontex incident report later indicated that Italian authorities told the EU agency at the time of the sighting that the case was not considered an emergency.

The Cutro shipwreck soon became a stark illustration of the fatal dangers faced by migrants as they try to reach European coasts on overcrowded and fragile boats, after paying smugglers for costly trips.

A total of 2,571 migrants died at sea in 2023, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. Nearly 100 people have been reported missing or dead in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2024, more than double the toll recorded last year during the same period, the IOM said.


Over the past year, Cutro survivors and relatives of the victims have voiced their rage, stressing that the tragedy could have been avoided if authorities reacted earlier to the migrants’ desperate calls for help.

Their testimonies on the tragedy have challenged both the Italian government and the international community to find new solutions to the migration crisis.

Meanwhile, the local community, which offered burial niches for some of the victims, expressed a deep solidarity and commitment to helping survivors and honoring the lost.

“My name is Mojtaba. I was born on Feb. 26, 2023. I feel I’m 1 year old today,” said survivor Mojtaba Rezapour Moghaddam, a 47-year-old Iranian who is building a new life in Crotone with the help of locals and aid groups.

Moghaddam fears the smugglers on board the Summer Love — after being arrested and sentenced — will be able go to back to Turkiye and restart their illegal trafficking activities.

His almost-deadly trip to Italy costed him about 9,000 euros, but he recalled that others on the boat had paid even more.


Earlier in February, a Crotone magistrate sentenced Gun Ufuk, a 29-year-old Turkish citizen accused of being one of the people smugglers on the vessel, to 20 years in prison and a 3 million euro fine. Ufuk was arrested in March last year after being identified in Austria, to where he had managed to escape.

Ufuk chose a fast-track trial, while the other three alleged smugglers who survived the shipwreck are undergoing ordinary procedures, which may last several months, if not years.

Their trial was recently adjourned to April 10 to enable testimony from three survivors who are in Hamburg and will testify via videoconference.

Meanwhile, a second investigation launched by prosecutors in Crotone into alleged delays in the rescue operations is expected to wrap up in a month’s time. That probe involves three police officers from the Italian tax and border police and an additional three people whose identities are unknown.

Pakistan expects to avoid rupee devaluation in new IMF talks — finance minister

Updated 6 sec ago

Pakistan expects to avoid rupee devaluation in new IMF talks — finance minister

  • No reason for rupee to depreciate more than the range of about 6 percent to 8 percent seen in a typical year, Aurangzeb tells Bloomberg 
  • Pakistan expects IMF mission to visit in May, would like to reach staff-level agreement on new loan by end of June or early July

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new government does not anticipate any significant currency devaluation as part of its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to unlock billions of dollars in lending and bolster the nation’s economic reform agenda, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said in an interview to Bloomberg published on Thursday. 
While massive devaluations have accompanied some of Pakistan’s previous IMF loans and are often a condition of the crisis lender’s programs around the world, nothing comparable should be necessary this time around, Aurangzeb said in an interview on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington.
“I don’t see the need for any step change,” Aurangzeb said, citing solid foreign-exchange reserves, a stable currency, rising remittances and steady exports. “The only thing which can be a wild card, although in our projections we should be OK, is the oil price.”
He added there would be no reason for the rupee to depreciate more than the range of about 6 percent to 8 percent seen in a typical year. 
Pakistan last devalued its currency in January 2023.
Aurangzeb, 59, said the new government in Islamabad was looking to bolster industries including agriculture and information technology with support that it hopes will help push the nation’s growth above 4 percent in the coming years.
In its talks with the IMF, Pakistan plans to seek a traditional IMF loan through the institution’s so-called extended fund facility. It also wants to get money via the IMF’s new Resilience and Sustainability Trust, which works to strengthen low-income and vulnerable countries against external shocks like floods that devastated Pakistan in 2022.
One of the new government’s tasks will be to steer the country out of a high-inflation and low-growth pattern. It also faces about $24 billion in external financing needs in the fiscal year starting July, about three times its reserves. 
Aurangzeb said Pakistan was in “relatively good shape” to make those payments.
Pakistan needs to repay “a couple of billion dollars” in the present fiscal year but reserves are expected to reach around $10 billion by the end of June from $8 billion now, said Aurangzeb. The dollar reserves currently cover about two months of imports.
Pakistan expects an IMF mission to visit in May and would like to reach a staff-level agreement on its next loan by the end of June or early July, Aurangzeb said, without specifying how much the nation was seeking. Bloomberg News earlier reported that the nation plans to ask for at least $6 billion.
Securing a new deal may also boost Pakistan’s dollar bonds and stock market, which have handed investors one of the best gains globally since the nation began the current IMF loan last July. The IMF executive board is expected to approve the final disbursement this month from the nation’s existing $3 billion loan that helped it avert a default on its debt last year.
Key objectives in the loan negotiations will include broadening the tax base, improving debt sustainability and restoring viability to the energy sector, the IMF said last month. These are steps that Pakistan has avoided for decades because of their unpopularity among a nation of more than 250 million people.
Pakistan in recent years increased tax revenue and energy prices to meet IMF demands but hasn’t been able to make progress on long-term structural issues such as privatizing state-owned companies.

Pakistani PM orders ‘action plan’ to finalize investments discussed with Saudi FM’s delegation

Updated 27 min 40 sec ago

Pakistani PM orders ‘action plan’ to finalize investments discussed with Saudi FM’s delegation

  • Prince Faisal has said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in Pakistan
  • Mining, agriculture, energy, IT and infrastructure development projects discussed during FM’s visit 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday chaired a meeting on Saudi investments in Pakistan and directed top officials to devise an “action plan” to complete projects discussed during a visit by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to Islamabad this week.
Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, he said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in the South Asian nation.
His trip followed a meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sharif in Makkah, in which the Saudi leader reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.
“I will personally monitor the completion of projects with Saudi investment,” Sharif was quoted as saying at a meeting of top officials from relevant ministries and the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a body consisting of Pakistani civilian and military leaders set up last year to promote investment in Pakistan.
During the FM’s visit this week, investments in the sectors of mining and minerals, agriculture, energy, information technology and infrastructure development were discussed.
“Any type of negligence regarding international investment projects is not acceptable … Outdated procedures and red tape will not work at all,” Sharif added.
“In this regard, a comprehensive action plan should be presented to increase the capacity of ministries. The Investment Board, SIFC and relevant ministries should formulate a plan of action for the completion of the projects decided in the discussions with the Saudi delegation.”
The PM said a delegation of well-known businessmen from Saudi Arabia was expected to arrive in Pakistan soon, and more investment opportunities also would be finalized during an upcoming visit by Sharif to Saudi Arabia.
Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expires this month.
Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up forex reserves.
Last year, however, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally and moving toward mutually beneficial investment deals backed by internal economic reforms.

PIA says flights ‘severely affected’ as UAE reels for third day after record-breaking storm

Updated 41 min 58 sec ago

PIA says flights ‘severely affected’ as UAE reels for third day after record-breaking storm

  • Operations at the Dubai airport remain disrupted after Tuesday’s storm flooded the runway
  • The rains were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in 75 years that records have been kept

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been affected by the recent torrential rains in Sharjah and Dubai and would resume once the situation improves in the Gulf country, a PIA spokesperson said on Thursday.
The United Arab Emirates was still grappling on Thursday with the aftermath of a record-breaking storm this week, with emergency workers trying to clear water-clogged roads and people assessing damages to homes and businesses.
In Dubai, operations at the airport, a major travel hub, remain disrupted after Tuesday’s storm flooded the runway. The airport resumed receiving inbound flights on Thursday morning, but flights continue to be delayed and disrupted.
The PIA said its flight operations were “severely affected” in the wake of the rains, which were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in 75 years.
“Pakistani airlines, including the PIA, await restoration of facilities at Dubai airport,” the PIA spokesperson said in a statement.
“PIA will immediately start its operations as soon as the situation improves.”
Passengers of canceled flights are being accommodated on the next flights on priority, according to the statement. Apart from this, more flights are also being planned.
The national flag-carrier requested travelers to reach its call center at 786 786 111 for information about their flight readjustments.

Saudi Arabia agrees to take rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent — Pakistani trade official

Updated 24 min 51 sec ago

Saudi Arabia agrees to take rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent — Pakistani trade official

  • Riyadh currently imports 7 percent of its rice requirements from Pakistan, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan chief says
  • The Kingdom wants to help Pakistan economically by increasing imports from South Asian country, Zubair Motiwala adds

KARACHI: Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase rice imports from Pakistan to 20 percent of the Kingdom’s total requirement, a Pakistani official said on Wednesday, as the South Asian nation gears up to achieve the $3 billion rice exports for the first time ever.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been closely working to increase their bilateral trade and investment, including a recent commitment to invest about $5 billion in Pakistan. 

The Kingdom wants to help Islamabad by importing more from Pakistan, according to Muhammad Zubair Motiwala, head of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the government arm that facilitates and promotes Pakistan’s international trade.

“Saudi are very eager to come and invest in Pakistan. They also want to help Pakistan by importing more from Pakistan,” Motiwala told Arab News, on the sidelines of an event hosted by the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) in Karachi. 

“For instance, the rice, which we are exporting to Saudi Arabia, is 7 percent of the requirement and they have agreed that they will take it to 20 percent. It’s almost three times [of] what we’re exporting today.” 

Pakistan has exported rice worth $2.9 billion from July 2023 till March 2024, according to REAP officials.

“We will cross the $3 billion export mark easily during the remaining four months of the current fiscal year,” Chela Ram Kewlani, the REAP chairman, said at the event.

The development came days after the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, visited Pakistan to enhance bilateral economic cooperation and push forward previously agreed investment deals.

His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.

The TDAP chief said a high-powered Saudi delegation was due in Pakistan, which would further boost the trade and investment climate.

“They’re interested in so many privatization projects, like the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) and the [Pakistan] Steel Mills, and so many others,” he said.

“And they also want to get into the stock exchange and they want to invest directly in the private sector and private-sector ventures.”

Motiwala was confident that Pakistan’s overall exports to Saudi Arabia would increase after diplomatic engagements between both countries at the time of the Saudi delegation’s visit. He, however, did not specify a tentative date for the visit.

Pakistan has exported goods worth $20.35 billion, including a major chunk of $11.14 billion that came from the textile exports, during the current fiscal year (July 2023-Feb 2024), according to official data.

However, the TDAP chief said the country was not fully harnessing its potential, which he believed to be more than $100 billion. 

“I am never satisfied, to be very frank and blunt… looking at the potential of Pakistan, we should not be at this place where we are... $30 billion, $32 billion [exports] is not the size of Pakistan,” he said.

“I think at least Pakistan should export more than 100 billion dollars.”

Motiwala said the TDAP was working hard to see how the country could increase its exports.

“We are looking for the government’s help also, government’s cooperation also, where we can reduce the cost of doing business and cost of manufacturing in Pakistan,” he said. “If we are able to do that, I think sky is the limit.”

The TDAP official said Pakistan was also going to organize a single country exhibition in Riyadh within the next two months to display a wide range of ‘Made-in Pakistan’ products.

X working with Pakistan to ‘understand concerns’ over ban

Updated 18 April 2024

X working with Pakistan to ‘understand concerns’ over ban

  • X has been rarely accessible since Feb. 17, when jailed ex-PM Khan’s party called for protests over poll results
  • Interior Ministry said X was blocked on security grounds, according to report submitted to Islamabad High Court

ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X said Thursday it would work with Pakistan’s government “to understand its concerns” after authorities insisted an ongoing two-month ban was based on security grounds.

The platform, formerly known as Twitter, has been rarely accessible since February 17, when jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s party called for protests following a government official’s admission of vote manipulation in the February election.

“We continue to work with the Pakistani Government to understand their concerns,” X’s Global Government Affairs team posted, in their first comments since the site was disrupted.

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday said X was blocked on security grounds, according to a report submitted to the Islamabad High Court where one of several challenges to the ban is being heard.

On the same day, the Sindh High Court ordered the government to restore access to social media platform X within a week.

“The Sindh High Court has given the government one week to withdraw the letter, failing which, on the next date, they will pass appropriate orders,” Moiz Jaaferi, a lawyer challenging the ban, told AFP.

The court’s full decision is expected to be published this week.

Both the government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had for weeks refused to comment on the outages.

“It is the sole prerogative and domain of the federal government to decide what falls within the preview of terms of ‘defense’ or ‘security’ of Pakistan and what steps are necessary to be taken to safeguard National Security,” said the interior ministry’s report, submitted by senior official Khurram Agha.

The interior ministry suggested intelligence agencies were behind the order.

The closure of a social media service “when there is request from any security or intelligence agency” is “well within the scope of provisions of the PTA act,” the report said.

Digital rights activists, however, said it was designed to quash dissent after February 8 polls that were fraught with claims of rigging.

Access to X has been sporadic, occasionally available for short cycles based on the Internet service provider, forcing users to use virtual private networks.

Mobile services were cut across Pakistan on election day, with the interior ministry also citing security reasons.

It was followed by a long delay in issuing voting results, giving rise to allegations of tampering.

Khan’s opposition party had already faced heavy censorship in the weeks before the election, banned from television channels and from holding rallies, forcing its campaign online.

Despite the crackdown, his party won the most seats but was kept from power by a coalition of rival parties that had the backing of the military.