Three hundred migrants were trapped below deck and drowned immediately, survivors were quoted as saying Tuesday, as the described the horrors of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean in which almost 500 people died.
Most of the men, women and children on board were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese.
After setting out to sea from the Egyptian port of Damietta on September 6, human traffickers rammed the boat when the Arab and North African migrants onboard refused demands to switch to an apparently unsafe vessel.
“After they hit our boat they waited to make sure that it had sunk completely before leaving. They were laughing,” one survivor told IOM.
“When the boat was first struck, one of the passengers killed himself in despair by hanging,” he added.
While 300 migrants died below deck, about 200 more clung to one another or to flotation devices trying to stay alive in the water.
Several managed to stay afloat for three days, but then started to go under as the weather conditions worsened and the area was lashed by strong winds and powerful waves.
Between 50 and 100 children under the age of 10 are missing among the passengers, IOM has calculated, based on witness accounts.
The survivors include two Palestinians from Gaza who first reported the incident in Sicily after they were rescued and brought there Saturday.
So far, only three bodies have been found, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle said.
The smugglers were Palestinians and Egyptians, the survivors said.
Two Palestinian survivors who were taken to the Greek island of Crete said they each paid 2,000 dollars in Gaza for the trip destined for Italy.
The IOM said authorities are checking reports of a second shipwreck involving another 200 missing migrants off the Libyan coast.
The number of migrants who have drowned this year as they tried to make it across the Mediterranean to Europe is approaching 3,000, according to the organization.
“The numbers dying off Europe’s coasts are shocking and unacceptable,” IOM’s director general, William Lacy Swing, said.
“The risks they take reflect their desperation and we cannot keep abandoning them to their fate,” he added.