Hundreds feared dead in Med refugee boat tragedy
ROME/GENEVAHundreds of refugees that set sail from the coasts of North Africa’s Libya are feared dead after boats carrying them capsized.
While the United Nations’ refugee agency put the death toll at around 110 people, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said 239 migrants were killed in two shipwrecks.
The UNHCR said Nov. 3 citing survivor testimony that at least 110 people were feared drowned off Libya after a migrant shipwreck.
“A vessel with around 140 people on board overturned Nov. 2 just a few hours after setting off from Libya, throwing everyone into the water. Only 29 people survived,” UNHCR spokesperson Carlotta Sami told Agence France-Presse.
The Norwegian Siem Pilot was first on the scene, some 20 nautical miles off Libya, and rescued the survivors – all of whom were in poor health after spending hours in the water –as well as recovering 12 bodies from the water.
Those pulled to safety were transferred to the island of Lampedusa by the Italian Coast Guard. They included two women who told the U.N. agency they believed they were the only survivors from a shipwreck in which some 125 people drowned.
“They told us they were on a faulty dinghy which began to sink as soon as they set sail. They were the only survivors,” Sami said.
But the Italian Coast Guard said it had no information on a second reported rescue on Nov. 2 or the saving of two women.
Meanwhile, the IOM said at least 239 migrants, believed to be from West Africa, died in two shipwrecks off Libya, Reuters reported.
One group of migrants, including about 20 women and six children, set off in a rubber dinghy from Libya around 3 a.m. on Nov. 2, but their boat collapsed after a few hours, said Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman for the IOM, who cited accounts by survivors.
By the time rescuers arrived, most had drowned. Twelve bodies were recovered, including three babies. About 27 survived.
Another two women reported surviving a separate disaster that happened at about the same time. Their rubber dinghy was carrying about 130 people.
The International Organization for Migration said the latest deaths meant 4,220 lives had been lost in the Mediterranean so far this year, compared with 3,777 in the whole of 2015.
October saw a surge in migrant arrivals in Italy, with 27,388 arriving, more than the two previous Octobers combined, and bringing this year’s total arrivals to over 158,000, di Giacomo said.
The smugglers who arrange the journeys have told migrants that European training of Libyan coastguards means the rescue missions will soon be handed over to Libya and any rescued migrants will be taken ashore in Libya rather than Italy, di Giacomo said.
That was possibly causing the rush to board boats now, he said, although the information, gleaned from rescued migrants, was not confirmed.