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Christian migrants thrown overboard during Mediterranean voyage, say police

A woman waits to disembark from an Italian Navy vessel in the harbour of Reggio Calabria, southern Italy earlier this week (AP)

Police in Sicily have said that 12 Christians were thrown overboard by Muslim migrants during a recent crossing from Libya. The victims, thought to be from Ghana and Nigeria, are all feared dead.

On Thursday, 15 people were arrested in Palermo, Sicily, and charged with “multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate”, the police said.

The migrants, 105 in total, were travelling in an inflatable boat that set off from Libya on Tuesday. The suspects, from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea, are accused of throwing the 12 Christians into the sea after a row broke out.

Eyewitnesses have told police that some survivors formed human chains to avoid also being thrown overboard.

In a separate incident, also on Thursday, more than 40 migrants reportedly died when another boat sank between Libya and Italy.

Four people were rescued from the sea by the Italian Navy, saying their inflatable boat sunk after leaving Libya with 45 people on board. The International Organisation for Migrants (IOM) has reported that the remaining 41 people have drowned.

These incidents occurred just days after 400 migrants are thought to have died after the sinking of a ship near the Libyan coast.

Every year thousands of people attempt to reach the Mediterranean coast from North Africa. According to the IOM, since 2000, almost 22,000 people have died trying to make the trip.

In February, after 29 migrants died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard, Pope Francis urged solidarity with migrants. A number of Church organisations, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, also issued a call for better search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, migration reform and joint government co-operation in Europe.