300 migrants die after vessels sink – Morning Star

March 31st, 2009 Print Print Email Email

MIGRATION officials confirmed on Tuesday that over 300 people have drowned off the coast of Libya after their rickety vessels sank on the way to Italy. (more…)

MIGRATION officials confirmed on Tuesday that over 300 people have drowned off the coast of Libya after their rickety vessels sank on the way to Italy.

Between one and three small ships carrying up to 500 migrants went down in Libyan waters on Sunday and Monday.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy confirmed yesterday that over 300 had drowned, saying: “There was no safety equipment, no lifeboats. People were packed onto the boats in every inch of space.”

Speaking from Libya, fellow IOM official Laurence Hart reported that rescue operations were ongoing and that some survivors had managed to reach Italian shores while others had been intercepted and returned to Libya.

“We are not sure what happened. These people who drowned might have been victims of the bad weather or they might have been overcrowded,” Mr Hart said.

Survivors from Africa and the Middle East, including some Syrian Kurds, told officials that their boat had been in poor condition and a hole may have caused it to sink.

According to IOM data, some 33,000 people made the hellish four to five-day journey from north Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2008.

Most of those taking this route are from the Horn of Africa, notably from Somalia and Ethiopia, and from west African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso. Many of the boats are not seaworthy and deadly accidents are common.

Italian maritime rescue officials have intercepted boats just 14 metres long and packed with 324 people on board.

Athough some of the arrivals in Italy are granted refugee status, many are economic migrants who are detained in an overcrowded camp on the island of Lampedusa before being deported.

Nearly 2,000 people are currently crammed into the centre, which was designed to hold no more than 850.

In January, over 1000 migrants escaped and joined a demonstration by residents who were protesting against plans to open another detention centre on the island.

Last month, Italy and Libya agreed to run joint sea patrols in an attempt to stem the heavy flow of illegal migrants.

In return for compensation from Rome for its 32-year occupation of the country that ended in 1943, Libya allowed the Italian military to join its navy and monitor its coasts for signs of illegal migration.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said that the patrols will begin on May 15.

Comments are closed.