More than half the survivors of the Lampedusa shipwreck have fled Italy for northern Europe–a day after being transferred to the mainland.
The 89 migrants, including one woman, all from Eritrea, had been provided with accommodation in Rome, where they could stay for six months after their horrific ordeal.
But just 24 hours after they arrived in the Italian capital, they all vanished without a trace, according to the city’s social services department.
Under EU rules migrants are not allowed to move away from the country of arrival.
But in practice many sneak across the border into Germany or France and onwards to the UK or Scandinavia where benefits are generous.
Some 20 per cent of those arriving by boat in Italy settle in Britain, investigators say.
More than 330 North Africans, including many women and children, perished after their boat caught fire half a mile off the coast of Lampedusa.
The island, closer to Tunisia than mainland Europe, is the first port of call for many would-be-migrants seeking a new home in Europe.
Tens of thousands have made the crossing since the beginning of the Arab Spring as swathes of North Africa descended into chaos.
After the tragic shipwreck the migrants were accommodated on the island or in Sicily.
But once they had recovered from their ordeal, the group of young Eritreans were offered a home at the Teresa Gerini Institute, a welcome centre in Rome, for those awaiting confirmation of their refugee status.
After arriving last Tuesday, on a special flight, they were greeted personally by the Mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino, and received a welcome phone call from Pope Francis.
Each was promised Euro 35 a day for basic living expenses.
When they arrived in the city, they were each given a welcome letter, an international phone card, a map, and a wash-kit consisting of shampoo, soap and a towel.
But a day later the centre was deserted—with the new arrivals thought to have headed to join family in the UK or Germany.
The Rome mayor’s office told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: ‘Between Sunday and Monday, all the refugees, in several tranches, abandoned the centre where we had hosted them.
‘We do not know why, because we had offered them the best welcome possible.
‘Many of them wanted to reach Northern Europe, where some already have relatives.
‘They generally move in groups, so that would explain the mass departure.’
The ship had arrived within sight of Lampedusa after two days of sailing from Libya when in sank in October.
The capsizing tossed hundreds of people into the sea, many of whom could not swim.
It sank after a fire was set on board to attract the attention of passing boats or people onshore when it ran into trouble.
Tens of thousands of migrants from African and the Middle East try to cross the Mediterranean Sea each year, seeking a better life in Europe. Hundreds die in the process.
It had travelled for two full days from the Libyan port of Misrata and those aboard thought they had reached safety when they saw the lights of Lampedusa.
It is thought to have capsized when everyone moved to one side. Some of the survivors were in the water for three hours clinging to anything buoyant—even empty bottles.