15 Muslim migrants attempting to get from Libya to Italy in a boat have been arrested after throwing 12 other passengers overboard because they were Christians, Italian police have confirmed.
The dozen men, from Nigeria and Ghana, were reportedly murdered by the Muslims before they were thrown into the Mediterranean, CNN reports. The few survivors recounted in horrific detail how the other Christians on the boat had also been threatened, and had to "forcefully resist" attempts to drown them by forming a human chain.
Ebrima Jaiteh, one of the passengers who arrived at the Sicilian port of Trapani, described the journey as "hell."
"I have been travelling non-stop for months, through many dangerous countries," he said according to Sky News.
"In Tripoli they treated us like animals. They beat us. They shouted at us. They took all our money."
He continued: "No human being should have to go through this. I thank God we made it. Many of my friends in different boats did not."
According to BBC News, the Muslims were arrested when they reached the Sicilian city of Palermo, and were charged with "multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate."
"The motive for the resentment was traced to their faiths," police said following the incident, which they referred to as a "religious clash."
The Muslim suspects, from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal, were among more than 100 people travelling in a rubber boat from Libya, hoping to reach Italy. They were rescued by the Italian boat on Wednesday.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast so far this year. However, many of them do not survive the treacherous journey. Earlier this week, over 10,000 people were rescued from a migrant boat that sank between Libya and Italy, but over 40 drowned. At least 500 people are believed to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of January.
Italy's foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, on Thursday appealed for help from the international community in response to the humanitarian crisis, saying that 90% of the rescue effort in recent weeks had fallen on the Italian navy. An estimated 170,000 people crossed from Africa and the Middle East to Italy last year, fleeing poverty and conflict.
"The emergency is not just about Italy," he said, according to The Guardian. "We have a duty to save lives and welcome people in a civilized manner, but we also have a duty to seek international engagement."