Migrants risk their lives to reach Italian island

(CBS News) LAMPEDUSA, Italy -- The U.S. Navy came to the rescue of 128 Somali migrants on a rickety boat in the Mediterranean Sea.

They were picked up late Wednesday by the USS San Antonio, the ship on which aLibyan terror suspect was interrogated earlier this month. On Thursday, the migrants were transferred to Maltese authorities.

The U.S. Navy rescued 128 migrants who were crowded onto a rickety boat in the Mediterranean Sea.
The U.S. Navy rescued 128 migrants who were crowded onto a rickety boat in the Mediterranean Sea.
CBS News

They were just the latest group attempting the perilous journey from Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

More than 500 have died in two shipwrecks this month, and yet the migrants keep trying.

On Lampedusa, there's a stretch of beach covered with the wreckage of boats. Locals call this "the boat cemetery." Most of the vessels were barely seaworthy before they ended up here.

Thousands of desperate migrants fleeing the war in Syria, or poverty or violence in Africa, pay smugglers more than $1,000 each to be packed onto the decks. Lifejackets here are as rare as pity.

A Syrian couple who arrived here two days ago from Africa said they fled a Damascus suburb that came under poison gas attack.

A stretch of beach known as the "boat cemetery" is littered with the wreckage of vessels that made it to the island.
A stretch of beach known as the "boat cemetery" is littered with the wreckage of vessels that made it to the island.
CBS News

The boat that was supposed to bring them to Europe was only 50 feet long and packed with 300 other passengers. The couple tried to back out.

"We told them no, it is too dangerous we will not go there. But they have a gun, and other people told me, 'If you don't go, they will shoot you,'" said the husband, Salim, who was too fearful to show his face or give his last name.

A crude arch known locally as "The Gateway to Europe" was erected as a monument symbolizing the door so many migrants are willing to risk their lives to pass through. It sits on the southernmost tip of Lampedusa island, barely 65 miles from the coast of Africa.

Nearly 22,000 migrants have made the crossing to Italy this year. Countless others have died trying.

Some 900 people, including children, are crowded into a camp for migrants at Lampedusa.
Some 900 people, including children, are crowded into a camp for migrants at Lampedusa.
CBS News

The survivors who succeed in reaching Lampedusa end up in a camp. There are 250 beds and 900 inhabitants, including children.

The journey leaves many traumatized, with symptoms similar to those experienced by torture victims. Liana Pizzi is a therapist with a local charity.

"They feel guilty because they have survived," said Pizzi. "Also they say, 'Why I am here and other people are not here any more? Was it possible to do something more, could I have saved someone?' "

But the danger and uncertainty have done nothing to slow the flood of migrants trying to find a better future.

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