Two children die in the fire of a migrant boat in the Mediterranean

ROME (AFP) – Two children have died and at least five women have been injured when a fire broke out on a ship carrying migrants from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa, authorities said.

Migrants make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean in leaky, overcrowded boats as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

“In agreement with the Maltese authorities, a coastguard patrol boat was sent from Lampedusa to the area and recovered 38 migrants, including the bodies of two minors,” said a statement from the island authorities.

According to Italian media, the two dead children whose bodies suffered burns were aged one and two. A 25-year-old pregnant woman believed to be the mother of one of the victims was reportedly taken to hospital and another woman is said to be missing.

An explosion apparently occurred on board the migrants’ boat, which may have been due to a gas canister or fuel ignition, the coast guard said.

The Sicilian public prosecutor’s office in the city of Agrigento has opened an investigation because the survivors were transferred to Lampedusa, a regular point of arrival for migrants from Tunisia or Libya. The island’s mayor, Filippo Mannino, has urged European Union (EU) chief Ursula von der Leyen to come and see the consequences for herself.

“I have been mayor for barely 100 days and I have already counted five deaths,” he said.

More than 76,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, compared to 50,000 at the same time last year. So far this year, 1,269 migrants have gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean, which the International Organization for Migration says is the world’s most dangerous route for would-be migrants.

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