Italian Coast Guard reported on Friday that two refugees drowned off the coast of Sicily, adding to the thousands who have died in the Mediterranean in the last year, as European Union leaders argued in Brussels over how to deal with the crisis.
A coast guard helicopter discovered the two corpses floating in the sea off the coast of Siculiana in Western Sicily, a spokesman said, adding that only one of the two bodies has so far been picked up.
The helicopter headed to the area after nearly 40 refugees, who said they were from Libya and Tunisia, were stopped by police after reaching shore in a wooden boat, the spokesman said, giving no further details.
Since World War Two, Italy and Greece are on the frontline of Europe’s biggest immigration crisis as hundreds of overcrowded and unsafe boats loaded with refugees from North Africa and Turkey reach their shores.
The sea route to Italy from Africa is particularly perilous. Of the more than 3,700 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean in 2015, some 2,000 happened on the way to Italy from North Africa.
European Union leaders have been locked in a row over how to deal with the refugee crisis at a summit that started in Brussels on Thursday.