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Italy recovers 217 bodies of refugees from sunken ship

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The wreck of a fishing boat that sank in April 2015 drowning hundreds of refugees packed on board is seen after being raised in the Sicilian harbor of Augusta, Italy, July 1, 2016. (Reuters photo)

Italian emergency workers have recovered at least 217 bodies of refugees from the wreck of an overcrowded boat that sank in the Mediterranean last year.

In a statement on Thursday, the Navy said a team of 150 professionals from Italian Red Cross, the Navy, fire service, and a forensic team of Milan university professors were working around the clock to examine the bodies.

Autopsies have been carried out on more than 50 of the victims, it added.

The Navy noted that police scientists, in close coordination with a local public prosecutor, have begun making reports on their findings.

This came after the vessel was hauled off the seabed and taken to a naval site in the Italian southern island of Sicily.  

In one of the most shocking incidents involving refugees, hundreds of people were feared to have perished in April 2015, after a crammed fishing boat capsized in Libyan waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. It sank about 135 km (85 miles) north of Libya, from where it departed.

This file photo taken on May 24, 2016 shows refugees waiting to be rescued during an operation at the Mediterranean sea in front of the Libyan coast. (AFP photo)

Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. 

More than 227,316 asylum seekers have reached Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, while 2,920 people died or went missing in their perilous journey to the continent, according to the latest figures by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

Many blame support by some Western countries and their regional allies for militants operating in the Middle East as the main reason behind the departure of refugees from their home countries.

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